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Will Apple’s Moat Encircle Your Car?

Apple’s ‘Ironheart’ initiative aims to expand CarPlay to control more vehicle functions, making it the most significant push into the car space by the California tech giant since the introduction of CarPlay in 2014.

Apple’s plan is to expand the features that it’s CarPlay software can control. This means that the iPhone would extend its interface into more areas of the car, beyond maps, music, messages, and phone features. The list of expanded car functions targeted by Ironheart include the following:

  1. Inside and outside temperature and humidity readings,
  2. Temperature zones, fans and the defroster system,
  3. Settings for adjusting surround-sound speakers, equalizers, tweeters, subwoofers, and the fade and balance,
  4. Seats and armrests,
  5. The speedometer, tachometer and fuel instrument clusters.

These functions are more central to the vehicle than the primarily infotainment features, which may raise some concern from automakers. Gurman points out that at the very least this initiative shows that Apple believes vehicles represent a major potential moneymaking stream, which explains why they want to bring vehicles as much as possible within their ecosystem behind their moat.

Presumably the more complete control of vehicles user interface would allow for a sort of vehicle platform for third-party apps, as well as providing significant data to Apple. This expanded area of activity would parallel Apple’s expansion into health and home technology.

The initiative, it should be pointed out, is not officially launched yet, but remains under wraps currently. For Ironheart to succeed there must be interest both from manufacturers and developers. CarPlay is currently available on 600 car models, and there is obvious interest from iPhone users who find the necessity of switching between the CarPlay interface and the native interface for various functions like temperature and so on. However, some of CarPlay’s advanced features have had little uptake by the auto industry, such as CarKey, which allows a recognized iPhone or Apple Watch to automatically unlock the vehicle at close range.

Personal Comment:

Apple, which reached a 2 trillion dollar market cap in 2020, can shift entire industries. This is not the first time the auto industry has felt pressure from the company, which has actively been working on their own electric car since 2014 under the title of project Titan. As it appears that their vehicle will likely not come to market any time soon the auto industry may feel some breathing space. This new initiative, however, might be an early shot across the bow.

Consider that major auto makers are scrambling to electrify their fleets and are pivoting toward framing themselves as mobility providers. OEMs from Renault to Volvo are moving toward mobility platforms of one sort or another. It is not obvious what advantage the OEMs would gain from this expansion, other than a selling point for iPhone users. There does, however, seem to be significant risk as Apple’s interface might become the key interaction point for people outside the steering wheel and pedals. And if Apple sees potential for profits in this space, surely the OEMs will want to look closely at is as well.

Written by Joshua Bronson,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Människa-autonomi)