Man driving and texting on his iPhoneThe year was 2007, specifically January 9, 2007. At the time, no one, not even Steve Jobs, really truly knew the far reaching impact this one single revolutionary, internet capable, mobile device would have on the human condition.

It quickly put the then dominant Blackberry down for the count. That device was then, and remains to this day, the iPhone by Apple Inc. This was the killer breakthrough that changed everything.

Fast forward over a decade and the iPhone has spawned what are now billions of the smart, ubiquitous devices that have permeated our everyday lives (including auto recycling). We even discuss ‘ecosystems’ of smartphones which can perform multiple critical functions that we seemingly can’t do without.

It used to be that you plugged in an iPod to your car for tune. Eventually that went extinct as smartphones easily folded iPod functionality into their bag of tricks. MP3’s turned CD’s and tape decks into distant relics of a time gone past. Mere footnotes in automobile history.

CarPlay

Apple parlayed its success with the iPhone directly into CarPlay. CarPlay essentially is iOS for cars morphing the stodgy in-car entertainment and navigation systems into a powerful web-connected part of Apple’s mobile ecosystem. This move was sheer genius by Apple as there are tens of millions of cars sold each and every year. The market penetration via the various worldwide manufacturers and the impact this integration has had is staggering. This keeps many hands on iOS which represents sales, sales, and more sales for Apple vaulting it into one of the most valuable companies on the planet.

Cars are even texting and notifying you that you have mail now. Smartphone functionality in the form of Google Maps has allowed the iPhone and Android smartphones to usurp the role dedicated navigation systems had in cars. Like a Vulcan mind-meld in Star Trek, bluetooth is syncing up with our modern cars keeping our phones out of sight.

Autonomous Cars

While hands free was all the rage with in-car communications and entertainment, automation, rather fully autonomous, self-driving functionality is the current step forward in advanced technology for vehicles. It began with cruise control, then on to auto-parking options, and Tesla went all-in venturing fearlessly into the realm of the fully autonomous, self-driving car. When one sits in a Tesla, it’s like sitting in an iPhone with a steering wheel, as the car is filled with touch displays pioneered by the iPhone all those years ago. Though Apple is a late entry into this field, it is flush with billions in cash, and being late has its upside as early adopter Tesla is taking the heat from the early crashes. Apple is now road testing its own version of self-driving technology. The cultural pros and cons of the implications of iPhone inspired autonomous vehicle technology is far reaching as the technology expands exponentially.

Safety has not been left behind as iPhones in cars can detect if it’s in motion with a ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ feature. This seeks to mitigate the all too tragic effect distracted driving has been proven to have. Look no further than the National Highway Safety Administration for the sobering facts in this regard. The iPhone technology wants you to keep your eyes focused on the road and driving safely.

The car service, Uber, is another example of the iPhone’s influence on transportation. The ease of internet connectivity combined with integrated GPS positioning for these smart handheld devices lent itself to Uber’s business model which has grown into a multi-billion dollar, indispensable, convenient, and cost-efficient service.

There’s much speculation around whether Apple will actually build an iCar. I think not. The realities of the automobile industry are such that a company like Apple, used to high margins on the products it sells would likely have a jaundiced view of what is a low margin, complex manufacturing industry. Auto manufacturing is not for the faint of heart and I’m sure investors will be asking many pointed questions about the impact on Apple’s business model. The highly innovative Tesla and its production challenges should give Apple much pause. But that’s just me, what do I know? Apple just may shock all the naysayers and pull it off. We’ll see.

The iPhone’s influence has been to show that beauty, functionality and power in a small package are not mutually exclusive. This philosophy and iOS are flowing seamlessly into modern automotive design. We’ve not seen the last of the innovations and influence Apple’s iPhone will have on both the car and our culture in the future.