Apple and Research In Motion (RIM) appear to be making moves to ensure their smart phones become more driver friendly.
While safety advocates continue to raise concerns about driver distraction from cell phones, both companies seem to be in the midst of attempting to implement technologies that will better integrate their phones and associated applications with in-car systems. It means drivers may not have fumble for music playlists on their iPhones in the future, and it may make it easier for automakers to introduce Blackberry applications as well. It's also an indication that Apple and RIM are worried about competition from Nokia and Google, both of which now offer free turn-by-turn navigation on their handsets.
The latest indications appeared recently when Apple announced a forthcoming update to its iPhone software, OS 4.0. The update will allow some models to run multiple applications (in certain situations) simultaneously. For drivers, it means it will finally be possible to use an iPhone for turn-by-turn navigation in a car without worrying that an incoming call could stop the program and get you lost.
Less noticed in the demonstration by Apple CEO Steve Jobs during that announcement was a passing reference to a feature for software developers called "iPod Out." While Apple already allows other companies to develop compatible accessories, the new feature appears to make it even easier to make devices such as car stereo and navigation systems to work more seamlessly with the popular smart phone. It could allow an in-dash entertainment system, for example, to mimic all the functions of an iPhone for music playback (without the usual incompatibilities).
When reached for comment about the rumors and what the company had planned, an Apple spokesman said, "We're not getting into the details at this time" about the features of OS 4.0, which will not be officially released until this summer.
Meanwhile, the day after Apple's much covered event, the makers of the popular Blackberry phones, RIM, quietly announced that it had agreed to purchase QNX Software Systems from Harman International. Aside from Microsoft's development of in-car systems such as Ford's Sync, RIM's acquisition is perhaps the most aggressive step yet taken by a handset maker to move into the dashboard. While not exactly a household name, QNX is responsible for creating the embedded software that's part of the infotainment and telematics systems for over 200 different vehicle models. Its software has been licensed for over 17 million in-car systems around the world, according to the firm.