Apple Unveils CarPlay, Makes Life Easier... Oh, Except You'll Need To Get A New Car To Use It

Great news for iPhone users: Apple announced Monday that they're developing a new collaborative tool to sync your car and your phone, known as CarPlay and compatible with iOS 7. The concept behind CarPlay is to make it both easier and safer to access core functions of your iPhone when behind the wheel, an act that right now is unsafe, inadvisable, and potentially quite expensive — in California, for example, it's against the law to hold a cell phone while driving, much less make a call.

The aim of CarPlay is to feature steering-wheel options to activate Siri; make calls; and send and receive messages — though precisely what type of messages Apple will include is not yet clear. Your SMS needs will probably be covered, but what about Facebook and Twitter?

Probably most usefully, CarPlay would allow for hands-free use of Apple Maps (which isn't Google Maps, but whatever) akin to a GPS device — reading directions aloud while feeding the visual, real-time map directly into your dashboard display. It'll even keep track of traffic conditions for you. Sounds neat, huh?

Well, here's the rub: CarPlay isn't just a solitary app you can download to facilitate all this. At the point you've got specific steering-wheel controls and Apple Maps splayed on your dashboard, a greater degree of integration is implied, and that integration has to be helped by the car itself.

Apple has already announced that they have some auto manufacturers lined up to start cranking out CarPlay-equipped vehicles by the end of the year, which needs a touchscreen dashboard display, and Bluetooth connectivity. But unless you've got a lot of spare change lying around, don't count on getting one too soon.

The three manufacturers announced as the first to feature CarPlay will be Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. All of which charge a handsome sum for a sparkling new car, though a bunch of other brands will be following the lead: Ford, Hyundai, GM, and Toyota among them. And then there's the infamous top-level meetings between Tesla and Apple — though the jury is still out about what's going on there.

One big question: is CarPlay actually going to make in-car phone use safer, or simply easier to get away with? The perils of clicking away at your iPhone while behind the wheel aren't just physical — being sure to keep both hands on the wheel — but mental, too. The state of distraction is significant as well, and for all the improved, streamlined functionality, it certainly doesn't sound much less distracting.