Is Apple Working on a Car Navigation System?

by Jochen Wolters

According to German news magazine "Focus," Apple is working on an in-car navigation system. Here's what it says in the article:

After computers, MP3-players, and mobile phones, [Apple] will also offer navigation and stereo systems for cars shortly, starting with Mercedes.

According to information available to "Focus," the device currently being developed by the US computer maker will combine entertainment, communications, and navigation in one unit.

The new Apple device will be offered exclusively by Mercedes for [the first] six months. Market introduction should be expected for 2009. It is still unclear whether Apple will — similarly to the iPhone — rely on Google Maps as navigation aid.

Although it may seem odd at first for Apple to get into the market of embedded devices, it does make sense product-wise: in essence, the iPhone already combines entertainment, communications, and navigation-like features in one unit. Just add a state-of-the-art GPS receiver and a radio, wrap in a sturdy, industrial-grade case, shake well, and serve!

However, all of the premium car makers already offer sophisticated, highly integrated in-car systems, including Mercedes's COMAND system, so while it would make sense for Apple to build such a device based on their experience with the iPhone, it remains to be seen how this device would tie in with the car makers' product offerings.


Sebastian Lewis
2007-06-17 04:45:16
Oh no!

*gasp shock and horror*

The jokes about a GPS unit after the iPhone were actually true!

No seriously, there was a thread about this on Apple Insider and I originally took it as a joke...


2007-06-17 06:58:00
To clarify, Apple's iPhone does not RELY on Google maps, it relies on the Internet, which offers Google maps, among myriad other options.
2007-06-17 07:23:44
The problem with most of the high end navigation systems in Mercedes et allia (BMW, Lexus), is that they are junk: Unusable, unintuitive junk, that is poorly integrated with their finely crafted machines. It got so bad, that their iDrive and COMAND systems became a well known liability to their otherwise excellent flagship vehicles. It would make sense that they would turn to Apple to clean things up. They are, after all the king of UI refinement.

Still, I find it surprising that Apple agreed to do this given their penchant for not taking up such specialized niche markets (Jobs himself outlined why they would not enter the tablet PC market to staff at Johns Hopkins after they requested a meeting with him to explore this technology). I guessthe car navigation market is a lot larger than the medical field.

Jochen Wolters
2007-06-17 07:55:00
Thanks for all of your great comments!

Sebastian, what's so "shocking and horrifying" about this announcement? ;)

You're right, Bob. However, considering how many of Google's services Apple already use in their products, it would be a fair guess to assume that Google Maps is the first choice for a partnership for a navigation device.

foj, I totally agree. Sort of. ;) Recently, I had a chance to play around with the "Professional" (that's the name) navigation system in a 2003 BMW 3 series car, and I find this system very intuitive and well-structured. Which begs the question why BMW's current iDrive system is so much more difficult to use than this product that precedes it by a couple of years.

Still, if auto makers would opt for the Apple system, would this replace the complete on-board system? If so, will the UI adopt the car makers own UI design philopsophy or will it resemble the iPhone's look-and-feel? If not, will there be several UI designs on the same system?

As for the tablet PC for the medical market: if a computing device corrupts medical data, this may lead to serious bodily harm for patients; if a device corrupts navigation data, drivers may lose their way (OK, so, in some metropolitan areas, this may also lead bodily harm, but that's a different story...

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer™, but I'm pretty sure that the resulting liability risk to Apple for the former is considerably higher than for the latter, especially in the US.

2007-06-17 08:21:05
This has got to be the dumbest thing I've read in a long time.
2007-06-17 12:14:18
As for the tablet PC for the medical market: if a computing device corrupts medical data, this may lead to serious bodily harm for patients

You have got to be kidding me. You think that the reason that Apple decided not to make a tablet was because one of the interested parties works in medicine(*) and that if Apple was worried about liability? Seriously? I know our system of tort liability can seem a bit over the top to foreigners, but it's not that ridiculous.

(*) Incidentally, I think foj was referring to a story about the NIH and not Johns Hopkins.

Jochen Wolters
2007-06-17 12:50:20
Scott, that comment was a reply specifically to foj's question of why Apple would consider entering the car navigation niche market, and not the medical tablet PC niche market. I definitely do not think that liability is the key reason for Apple not to a build a tablet Mac. Then again, the article you link to does address that issue as follows:

Finally, any product designed to work in the medical field would attract significant liability. The hint was that Apple wasn't interested in anything with that kind of potential liability. That pretty well shut down the issue.
2007-06-17 17:08:10
This may well be good news.

I am something of a Benz, er, enthusiast ("nutter" according to some); I have nine of them, built between 1960 and 1980.

The main reason I'm not at all interested in post-1990 Benzes is their electronics: unreliable crap that has seriously degraded the marque's reputation for reliability.

When people ask me why I use Macintosh, my standard reply is "it is the Mercedes-Benz of the car world".

Bring it on!

2007-06-17 17:24:14
Isn't there an Apple patent re. device syncing that mentions systems embedded in cars?? (Of course patenting something is often defensive). Having a car system that syncs with your home system, phone, etc, is an inevitable end goal. Whether that happens quicker open standards (better and better Bluetooth specs) or through a single vertical supplier is the main question.

foj - don't think car navigation - that's niche (but fast becoming standard even in cheap cars).
Now think of the iPhone - it combines niche products into a new category. Were Apple to produce such a device it would inevitably also be the in-car entertainment system (audio - possibly even seat-back screens for the rear as an option - this is stuff that would be trivial to do with the technology they already have) - there would be a real strategic goal in doing so - keeping you within the Applesphere for more of the day.

Mind you, 2009 is far enough a way for this to just be an idea, rather than even a prototype.

Sebastian Lewis
2007-06-17 18:27:11
Jochen, the fact that this was already predicted as the next product after iPhone after years of iPhone rumors.

I don't consider it a bad thing though, in fact I see it as very possible depending on how bad the car navigation market is, which I would never know having decided to stick with MUNI (public transportation) in San Francisco and not get my drivers license next year, it could be a very good thing and even likely.

Apple has already shown that they can partner when they need to, examples including Google for Google Maps (iPhone) and Youtube (Apple TV and iPhone), AT&T (iPhone), and car manufacturers (iPod), so partnering with car manufacturers to drag them kicking and screaming towards a better future wouldn't surprise me a bit.

JulesLt, all I found was this. That seems to be the patent to their current deal with automobile manufacturers.


2007-06-17 18:45:00
When I say Nav system, I also mean climate control, music, etc. Just like in the current iDrive and COMAND systems.

Jochen, actually the real reason why Apple didn't go into the Medical tablet/general tablet field is that Jobs felt that reasonably priced and featured technology wasn't available at the time. I think he had problems with the low resolution LCD's that were out and proposed that for imaging (think tomagraphy, MRI, and CAT scans) all present touch screen LCDs are not up to snuff for viewing these mission critical images. This may not be true today. Of course, his reasoning could have just been an excuse, but I am in no position to call Jobs a liar.

I guess it find it less surprising that Apple may be working with Mercedes now that I think of how much larger the car audio industry is compared to medical tablets. A couple of slick iPhone like navigation transitions from climate control, to audio, to satellite nav system (with synched Google GPS maps) would be just the ticket to fix these forward thinking automakers' current predicament. Anything would be better than what is currently out there. Plus anything with the iPod name would be a strong differentiation for Mercedes. I find that my large capacity iPod more often than not remains in the glove compartment of my car and my smaller, flash based iPods are taken on workouts, and walks around the neighborhood. An official "iPod" head unit would do well, seeing as the third party iPod compatible head units also have interface issues. They're just not so slick, and seem slapped on, rather than integrated with the iPod.

2007-06-17 19:37:22
This makes a fair amount of sense, and would be the second auto deal Apple has been involved in. A few years ago I remember Jobs or someone in Apple mentioning that BMW had contracted Apple to help refine their in-car user interface.
2007-06-17 21:40:17
Brian, if that were true, and anything were to have come of it, BMW's iDrive would now be a pleasure to use.
It's not. While being marginally less vile, it still hasn't lost its "worst of breed" status.
Simon Hibbs
2007-06-18 03:28:43
@Bob: To clarify, Apple's iPhone does not RELY on Google maps, it relies on the Internet, which offers Google maps, among myriad other options.

My understanding is that the iPhone contains a phone location/mapping/search mashup application that uses Google Maps to provide the mapping component. It's a lot more than just a link to Google Maps in the iPhone browser.

John Lockwood
2007-06-18 05:33:04
If Apple do work with Mercedes (and others) to design an in car entertainment/navigation system it could be to ensure that the iPod continues to rule supreme in cars.

I am surprised no-one else has mentioned the fact that Microsoft has for years been working on such systems with Ford for example (cue obligatory joke about Microsoft and 'crashing' cars). It would not take a great deal of imagination to suspect any Microsoft derived offering would offer less than ideal iPod integration.

Jochen Wolters
2007-06-18 15:15:06
Thanks for all your insightful comments.

As John already pointed out, Microsoft is also heavily involved in this market, and you can learn more about what they are working on on their Windows Automotive page.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-20 21:01:18
Since it will be an Apple product will it come in a choice of cool colors? Sorry, I couldn't resist :)

I agree that this could make business sense for Apple.

2008-04-01 18:04:09
Wow, Apple is trying to get into the car audio video business! That sounds cool. I have been looking for a gps system for my car on I really don't know what to get. There are a lot of brands. I hope Apple will do well with that.