Apple’s plan for cars: Using iPhone to control A/C, seats, radio

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The company is working on technology that would access functions like the climate-control system, speedometer, radio and seats, according to people with knowledge of the effort. The initiative, known as “IronHeart” internally, is still in its early stages and would require the cooperation of automakers.

The work underscores the idea that cars could be a major moneymaker for the tech giant — even without selling a vehicle itself. While plans for an Apple car have faced setbacks, including the defection of key executives this year, the company has continued to make inroads with CarPlay. It lets customers link up their iPhones with a vehicle to handle so-called infotainment features. Seven years after its launch, CarPlay is now offered by most major automakers.

IronHeart would take CarPlay a step further. The iPhone-based system could access a range of controls, sensors and settings, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the project is secret.

That includes: inside and outside temperature and humidity readings temperature zones, fans and the defroster systems settings for adjusting surround-sound speakers, equalizers, tweeters, subwoofers, and the fade and balance seats and armrests the speedometer, tachometer and fuel instrument clusters An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the Cupertino, California-based company’s car plans. Apple shares rose 1.1% to $143.49 as trading got underway Thursday morning in New York.

By gaining access to controls and instruments, Apple could turn CarPlay into an interface that could span nearly the entire car. The data also could be used by Apple or third parties to create new kinds of apps or add features to existing functions.

Some Apple users have complained about the need to jump between CarPlay and a car’s built-in system to manage key controls. This initiative would alleviate that friction.

The effort would be similar to Apple’s approach to health and home technology. The company offers an app on the iPhone that can access and aggregate data from external health devices using its HealthKit protocol. The Home app, meanwhile, uses Apple’s HomeKit system to control smart appliances, including thermostats, security cameras and door locks.

IronHeart would represent Apple’s strongest push into cars since CarPlay was released in 2014, but it may not be a hit with automakers. They could be reluctant to hand over control of key features to Apple. While CarPlay is now in more than 600 car models, other Apple initiatives launched in recent years have been slower to catch on with automakers.

In 2015, Apple started allowing carmakers to build third-party apps for CarPlay that could access the car radio, GPS and climate controls. In 2019, it started supporting CarPlay on secondary car screens like digital instrument clusters. A year later, it announced CarKey, a feature for unlocking a car with an iPhone or Apple Watch, and electric-vehicle routing, the ability for the iPhone to sense when it is connected to an EV and provide charger information in the maps view.