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Reality Absorption Field: To the third screen

Ross Rubin

What screens will Apple next attack? There's certainly been much hearsay and rationale for the company entering the smartwatch market. While its WWDC announcements were inconclusive as to Apple's move to build a televison, they certainly showed that Apple is now serious about addressing the viewer in the vehicle.

Game Controls

A somewhat under-the-radar part of the WWDC announcements came in the form of Apple specifying standalone and attachable specifications of game controllers for iOS devices. The move symbolizes an acknowledgement that many games benefit from control beyond touch despite Apple's great success with iOS as a gaming platform, but action gamers will likely spend more time celebrating vindication by taking advantage of the new controls than filling the air with "I-told-you-so's."

The addition of these controls have been widely speculated to be a sign of Apple's long rumored foray into the TV market. Indeed, long before found its way to the TV by virtually any means, the TV apps were games. A handful of semi-portable Android microconsoles around the size of Apple TV -- such as OUYA and GameStick -- seek to bring Android games to the television. Meanwhile, Apple is sitting on a massive casual game catalog and could allow consumers to use the apps they've already purchased in a game-enabled Apple television set.

However, as with most Apple televison scenarios, they could also do that with an updated version of Apple TV, or even via AirPlay as is possible today. In fact, they might not have much to do with the television at all, but just providing more control options for the iPhone or iPad enabling, for example, two kids a car's back seat to play games on an iPad mounted to a headrest.

iOS in the Car

iOS' multitouch user interface may have been a revelation in terms of navigating the limited real estate of a mobile phone experience but it's far from idle in the vehicle. For years, we've seen Android devices feature various car modes and car docks to facilitate use in the vehicle, but interacting with iOS in the car remained, to borrow a phrase from consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, "unsafe at any speed."

Meanwhile, a broad consortium of car makers and handset companies banded together to form the MirrorLink standard for mirroring a phone's display on the console of a vehicle. A representative once described its membership as consisting of "everyone but you-know-who," And yet, while car makers seem eager to support MirrorLink, it hasn't been embraced by the key mobile OS vendors yet. According to Reticle Research, about 10 percent of U.S. consumers have an app-compatible console in their vehicles.

Then came Siri and Apple Maps. And then came slightly more usable Siri and Apple Maps, And then Apple announced iOS in the Car. Much as AirPlay incorporates much of the functionality of DLNA, iOS in the Car includes much of the functionality of MirrorLink but most likely throws out implementation details that Apple deems cumbersome, extraneous or otherwise unwanted.

The list of backers that have signed in for iOS in the Car span the gamut from miser-friendly Kia to millionaire-friendly Ferrari, but just what its functionality will include remains to be seen. Unlike with MirrorLink, a key question raised by desirable integration with Siri is how open iOS in the Car will be to third-party apps. A failure to expand it will confine iOS users who take advantage of the integration to Apple Maps versus Google Maps and iTunes Radio vs. Pandora.


Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.

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