But this expansion of the service would require buy-in from automakers. While most major carmakers have embraced CarPlay since it launched in 2014, granting more access to a car’s key systems may be more than automakers are comfortable with. For example, in iOS 14 Apple introduced Car Key, which allows you to unlock a compatible car with your phone or Apple Watch. So far the only compatible cars are 2021 BMWs.
The idea behind the project, dubbed “IronHeart,” is to extend CarPlay integrations so that you can control more of a car’s systems, settings, and sensors. That includes things like A/C, climate control, speaker settings, seats and armrests, and the speedometer. Right now, CarPlay works by hooking up your iPhone to your car’s display to control things like music, see turn-by-turn navigation, and offer a hands-free way to send messages while driving.
One issue is that this kind of deal might seem lopsided in Apple’s favor. It gets to make bank without having to build a car itself, while automakers have to cede ground to Apple. This sort of imbalance was thought to be one of the reasons why talks between Apple and Hyundai to build the so-called Apple Car fell apart earlier this year. Hyundai reportedly had little interest in becoming Apple’s Foxconn for cars, as it would entail doing the “dirty work” while Apple reaped the rewards.
As with other secret Apple projects, this one may never see the light of day. After all, we’ve been murmuring about Project Titan for god knows how many years at this point and even the most aggressive timelines put a potential Apple Car launch in 2024. Another factor is Apple’s car ambitions recently took a major hit after several key figures in its automotive division left the company. The most recent was Doug Field, who headed up the entire Apple Car project for the past three years. Field left abruptly left in September to become Ford’s chief of advanced technology officer. So, while it seems clear that Apple has its sights set on some kind of presence in the car world, it may be a very, very, very long time before we see any big money moves.
On the other hand, as Bloomberg points out, automakers eventually may not have a choice. In iOS 15, Apple extended its Wallet features to include digital IDs, car keys, keys for smart locks, and even verifiable vaccine cards. It’s the sort of all-in-one convenience that makes losing your iPhone—or switching from iPhone—a gigantic hassle. (Which is exactly what Apple wants.) Should these features take off, carmakers risk pissing off customers by not playing ball.