As part of its keynote speech on the opening day of this year's WWDC, Apple mentioned that Siri will be featured in vehicles from no less than nine major global automakers. Not only will Siri be making her much anticipated iPad debut, but she'll also be joining you on your daily commute. Apple calls it the "Eyes Free" system.
Apple said that Siri will be seamlessly integrated into vehicles from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover and Toyota. With the push of a button, you'll be able to stop fiddling around with your phone or infotainment system, focus on the road and let Siri handle the other work.
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Apple didn't share any details beyond the basics, leaving us to imagine exactly how Siri will work in a vehicle. Given Apple's mention of a spoken mapping function in iOS 6, it seems obvious that Siri will take over the role of turn-by-turn navigation. Other common functions like audio control and points of interest should slide naturally under Siri's voice-activated umbrella. Oh yeah ... you'll be able to make calls, too.
Integrating Siri into vehicle electronics systems won't be completely different from the types of technology that automakers are developing now, but it will provide a smooth, familiar interface that iPhone-carrying drivers are already comfortable using. It sounds as though it will be a plug-and-play system as simple as connecting your iPhone, hitting a button and talking to Siri. So rather than learning the ins and outs of a proprietary infotainment system on every new car you drive, you'll rely on Siri in a variety of cars. Automakers may even be able to scale back on the technology concierge staff they hire to explain and troubleshoot their systems.
One concern is in the type of in-vehicle functions Apple and automakers will enable. While voice-activated systems like Siri minimize physical and visual distractions, such as reading displays and punching buttons, they have the potential to create other sorts of distractions, depending upon how they're implemented (e.g. giving you access to an entire Internet full of content).
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expressed opposition to features like in-vehicle Internet browsing and Facebook. Even with a voice-controlled system, such applications can create cognitive distractions every bit as dangerous as physical distractions. In February, the agency released the first phase of voluntary guidelines for automakers concerning in-vehicle technology. The guidelines focus on manual and visual distractions (possibly the inspiration for the "Eyes Free" name), encouraging automakers to avoid things like manual or visual text messaging and Internet browsing features. Voice commands are not addressed in the guidelines but may be covered in a future phase.
So long as the Eyes Free system focuses on things that people have been doing in the car for decades (e.g. navigating to their destination and controlling music), it shouldn't draw the ire of the government. Considering that Apple's brief mention of Eyes Free in its iOS 6 press release is preceded by a discussion of how Siri can update your Facebook and Twitter, however, that seems doubtful. We'll have to wait for more official details from Apple or its automotive partners to know for sure.