How your iPhone could start your car before you get in it.

Drive your car? There's an app for that. Photo: Cult of Mac/USPTO

Apple already has its in-dash operating system CarPlay, which it hopes will make its way into more than 24 million vehicles over the next five years. But if a new patent published today is anything to go by, that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Apple’s hopes for the car-world.

What Apple describes is a way of linking your iPhone to your vehicle by way of a Bluetooth connection, thereby allowing drivers to lock and unlock car doors, start up engines, establish personalized car settings, and even shut off engines during specific time windows.

It all sounds a bit like 1997’s (underrated) James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond takes his BMW for a backseat spin, via his Sony Ericsson JB988 cellphone. Implemented correctly, it could be another massive boon for Apple — which has already made clear its home automation ambitions with the arrival of HomeKit.

But how exactly would it work?

A diagram provided with the patent shows how Apple would plan to implement the technology, involving pairing your iPhone with your car.

Photo: USPTO

Thanks to the number of high tech components and sensors in today’s vehicles, the complete list of functions Apple sees possible to control with its devices include the ability to:

“Unlock a vehicle’s doors, unlock a vehicle’s storage compartment, start a vehicle’s engine, activate a vehicle’s audio or audiovisual entertainment system, activate a vehicle’s global positioning system (GPS), activate a vehicle’s dashboard console, turn on a vehicle’s passenger compartment lights, adjust a vehicle’s seats, turn on a vehicle’s headlights, open a vehicle’s sun roof, turn on a vehicle’s windshield wipers, activate a vehicle’s automatic parking system, activate a vehicle’s wireless communication system, and/or the like.

In some embodiments, the vehicle-related operation can include a personalization operation, in which the vehicle automatically adjusts an environmental setting (e.g., seat position, mirror position, temperature controls, settings for an audio or audiovisual entertainment system) based on the received vehicle access credential and/or on the particular portable device from which the vehicle access credential is received.”

One area that would be particularly useful would be the security aspect of the proposed concept, which could take advantage of features like Touch ID to grant or reject access to vehicles. By doing this, Apple could conceivably stop a car from being started, even if it was broken into by a would-be thief. Of course, this could prove to be a major headache for Apple if implemented incorrectly.

Recently BMW had to issue a software fix after it was discovered that a flaw in its ConnectedDrive technology — affecting 2.2 million of its vehicles, including Rolls-Royce, Mini, and BMW models — allowed hackers to open windows and unlock doors in cars not belonging to them.

This isn’t the first time that Apple has made similar noises about car-controlling technologies. Last year, we reported on a patent that used iPhones’ geo-location capabilities to intelligently monitor and control certain car functions, so that your car could automatically lock when you are walking away from it, or heat up its interior when you’re returning to it.

Today’s patent goes further in its designs, however. Now we just need to wait and see whether they actually become a reality.

In the meantime, users hungry for this functionality can check out apps such as OnStar RemoteLink.

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