“Look at the car industry; it’s a tragedy in America. Who is designing the cars?” J.Crew Chief Executive Officer and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) board member Mickey Drexler said at Fast Company‘s Innovation Uncensored conference in April. “Steve’s dream before he died was to design an iCar.”
While Apple has been ambivalent about incorporating its technology or its devices into automobiles and any plans to create an iCar have been relegated to the imaginations of a few Apple aficionados, the iPhone maker has noted that its rivals are gaining an advantage in a key market. According to researcher IHS iSuppli, BlackBerry’s (NASDAQ:BBRY) QNX Software Systems and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are currently the top manufacturers of automotive software, while more drivers listen to Pandora’s (NYSE:P) streaming-music service on the road than any other competitor.
While Jobs’s iCar dream has been slightly downgraded – at least for now — Apple is looking to put its stamp on the new technology populating automobile dashboards. Company executives already know that drivers use their iPhones as a simple alternative to built-in navigation, and now, as Bloomberg reported, carbuyers will be able to choose from several vehicle models that incorporate several key functions of the iPhone — including the voice-operated assistant Siri, which can find directions, send text messages and emails, or play music.
But it may be hard for even Apple to displace BlackBerry and Microsoft, and that is because of the nature of the market. Outcompeting rivals for dominance in the automobile industry is much more difficult than gaining traction in desktop computers or in mobile phones because of the associated challenges: extreme temperatures, noisy cabins, and long product cycles. “It’s impossible to overestimate the difficulty of integrating an outside software system well into a vehicle,” Eric Noble, president of industry consultant Car Lab, told Bloomberg. “Silicon Valley routinely fails to recognize this.”
Automakers have also realized that many drivers rely on their iPhones for navigation, and consequently, they are working to incorporate Apple’s technology into their vehicles to minimize driver distraction and improve customer satisfaction, noted the publication. Apple’s Siri was included into General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, but the reviews of the technology have not been stellar. The Spark and the Sonic employ Apple’s iOS 6 operating system in their dashboard head unit, which makes a separate navigation system unnecessary.
“It works well enough for some things, but I personally think Siri doesn’t work that well,” Edmunds.com consumer-advice editor Ron Montoya said in a phone interview with Bloomberg. “It frequently doesn’t recognize my voice.” He found that the iOS-system was not as useful for navigation or other functions as systems automakers already employ.
“Siri has not been designed for the car, where the cabin is often noisy,” added Strategy Analytics’ Chris Schreiner, a former engineer for GM’s OnStar telematics service. “Automakers tune voice systems for each car,” he told the publication. “Expecting Siri to work at the same level in every vehicle isn’t practical.”
But it is something people want, according to Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who said on the company’s July 23 earnings conference call that “Apple can do [the dashboard head unit] in a unique way and better than anyone else.” He added that it was a “key focus.”
Here’s how Apple traded on Wednesday:
Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS