The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published 45 new patents that were granted for Apple Inc. on Feb. 3. The patents range from minor innovations, such as a new method of securely creating new accounts, to inventions involving screens with tiny holes to allow for streamlined passage of various signals. The most interesting patent of the bunch, however, is about managing your car through your iPhone.
According to Patently Apple, a person could potentially start their car engine and dashboard system, lock and unlock doors, set personalized temperature settings, and even choose seat and mirror positioning. The patent also allows for a user to restrict the hours that a given car can be operated. Before you get your hopes up, there is no mention of being able to physically drive your car through your iPhone.
It’s an exciting premise—being able to turn on your car and have it customized to your exact settings sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. There’s only one major cause for concern: security. With all of this power locked within a phone, how can we ensure authorized access to it?
Judging from Apple’s recent history, the answer may lie with Touch ID, Apple’s biometric security measure. Equipped on all new iPhones, Touch ID allows users to simply place their thumbs on the fingerprint scanner, which is built into the home button, and unlock their phones, authorize payments, and perform countless other tasks. Apple seems to be doubling down on biometric security—they have been steadily increasing functionality for Touch ID, and they even submitted a patent recently to allow phone screens themselves to recognize fingerprints as well. It’ll take a lot to convince users to trust their car’s safety with their iPhones, but Touch ID seems like the obvious starting point for garnering that trust.
These patents signify yet another step in Apple’s greater vision to integrate its products into automobiles. CarPlay, Apple’s current in-car solution, allows iPhone users to synchronize their devices with any compatible car dashboard, giving the dashboard an Apple-customized interface designed for ease of use. Users can make calls, send messages, use GPS navigation, play songs from their music library, and use other supported apps all from their car’s touchscreen dashboard. All of this is aided by Apple’s voice-controlled assistant Siri, which aims to make hands-free usage even easier. Over 30 car major manufacturers, such as Toyota and Ford, are already integrating CarPlay support into their new car lineups.
CarPlay seeks to make managing your life just as easy in a car as it is on your smartphone, and judging from these new patents, it seems Apple wants to take it even further. Apple is setting the foundation for what seems to be an expansive integration with iPhones and the objects we use every day. They’ve already released developer tools that allow iPhones to easily communicate with compatible home appliances; examples include remote control of thermostats and alarm systems. Integration with car systems is just another step towards an easier life.
Who knows—in five years time, we may actually see cars and homes that can be completely controlled by the devices we carry around in our pockets all day. But for now, all we can do is wait in anticipation.