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Apple’s iCar is finally here

Apr 24, 2013

FORTUNE -- According to J.Crew CEO and Apple board member Mickey Drexler, Steve Jobs long dreamed of taking on the global automotive industry by building an Apple car, the would-be iCar. The Apple chief reportedly told the New York Times something similar. Though Jobs never got to make it happen, the iCar is coming. Sort of.

At this year's Shanghai Auto Show, Volkswagen unveiled the iBeetle. Why the "i?" The new variant of the classic design is built around deep integration with Apple's (aapl) iPhone. It sports a docking station for the popular smartphone on the dashboard. A plugged-in iPhone can tap into the vehicle's navigation and audio systems. (A wireless connection is also available.)

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How is this different from pervious iPhone-auto integrations? Volkswagen is releasing an app that supercharges what the iPhone can do inside the vehicle. One part of the program displays vehicle information, such as coolant temperatures and oil levels. Another can compare driving times and distances. It also pipes in tunes from Spotify or iTunes and, natch, makes calls that can be run through the car's stereo too.

Of course, much of this isn't new. Carmakers, telecoms, software designers, and chip makers are rushing to bring the innovations made ubiquitous by smartphones and tablets to cars. Researcher ABI estimates that by 2016, over 200 million cars will have Internet access -- and that means loads of sensors, apps, and processors. Dashboards are quickly being replaced with high-tech features associate with mobile devices, from video calling to custom dials.

VW says the car was designed to match the look of Apple’s smartphones. In other words, it'll be available in gray, white, and black. The iBeetle and iBeetle convertible are due on dealer lots at the beginning of next year. The iBeetle's price was not revealed.

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