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Apple Unveils Its Stake in a New 'Mobile' Market

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The company announces CarPlay, its iPhone-powered in-car technology integrated into vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo.

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Last year we got a hint of where the next big war between the major tech players would take place. In December, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was gearing up to announce its collaboration with General Motors (NYSE:GM), Honda (NYSE:HMC), and Audi (FWB:NSU) to outfit cars with Android in-car technology. (See: Google to Battle Apple, Microsoft in a New Mobile Territory) Following in the footsteps of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Mountain View's foray into the auto industry solidified the connected car as the latest battleground for tech enthusiasts.

And now, Apple has just returned fire.

Nine months after announcing the "iOS in the Car" system at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple has unveiled the fruits of its labor with multiple automakers, dubbed CarPlay. Beginning with cars from Ferrari (BIT:F), Mercedes-Benz (FWB:DAI), and Volvo (OMX:VOLV B), CarPlay provides basic iOS functionality directly from a dashboard screen. Drivers will be able to make calls, navigate with Apple Maps, play tunes, and access messages, all under the guidance of Siri. The system will soon make its way to vehicles made by Ford (NYSE:F), BMW (FWB:BMW), Toyota (NYSE:TM), GM, Honda, and others.

"CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's Vice President of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing, in a public statement. "iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips, and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction. We have an amazing lineup of auto partners rolling out CarPlay, and we're thrilled it will make its debut this week in Geneva."

Unlike wireless integrations we've seen with in-car systems that support Bluetooth, CarPlay requires a late-model iPhone (only the iPhone 5, iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C work) physically connected with Apple's Lightning cable. But once up and running, the system can be fully voice-controlled via a button on the steering wheel that signals Siri to perk up her ears. From there, the virtual assistant can read your emails aloud -- as well as dictate and send your replies -- cue up music, and provide turn-by-turn directions. Apple's goal is to offer iPhone functionality without requiring the driver to take his or her eyes off the road.

In addition to core iOS apps, CarPlay supports third-party apps, but at launch the services are limited to Spotify, Beats Radio, iHeartRadio, and Stitcher. And, given the improvements made to Apple Maps as of late, it's very unlikely that we'll see CarPlay support extend to Google Maps -- or the majority of Google's app suite, for that matter.

This announcement is merely a preliminary glimpse at CarPlay, with more details and demos to be shown off at the Geneva Auto Show beginning later this week. A full-fledged rollout of CarPlay-equipped vehicles won't take place until this fall, so should Apple allow more third-party apps onto the system, that gives developers plenty of time to create some useful in-car services.

The battle over connected cars is just starting to heat up. We'll have to wait and see how Google responds to CarPlay, but if the conflict is anything like the smartphone wars with the main combatants scrambling to one-up each other, tech heads and gear heads will both be in for a treat.

Related stories:

Apple Is Still King of US Smartphone Market, but Globally, Microsoft Is a Threat
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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