An array of automotive-themed iPhone applications – accelerometers, parking reminders, racing games – are little more than cute amusements for waiting in the dentist's office. But the most innovative and useful auto app isn't available for download - it controls a concept car made by Rinspeed, the wild Swiss company responsible for last year's submersible Lotus Elise.
Open the fighter jet canopy of the Rinspeed iChange, climb into the center driver's seat, and plug in your iPhone. A green starter button graphic appears; press it, and the electric sports car is ready to go. Another button closes the canopy, while another raises it several inches to accommodate two rear seat passengers (hence the word "Change"). Need to double-park and grab a quick sandwich? No problem, the hazard indicator switch is there, too, as well as the headlight controls.
It's official, iPhone fanatics: song recognition and 3-D topographic maps are officially lame.
The iPhone ignition is part of the car's fancy Harman/Kardon infotainment system, which looks a lot like Windows Media Center (watch it all here). Rinspeed doesn't say what happens if your iPhone is low on battery or freezes in the middle of a long road trip. Sync with the wrong computer, however, and it's a safe assumption your car keys are gone.
A phone-operated car is about as necessary as heated Japanese toilet seats, but it's another leap in ignition technology (and one small step for Apple). Standard keyless ignition systems, which combine a push-button electronic start with a radio frequency-enabled fob, enable drivers to quickly unlock and start the engine as if they were stealing an idling car. All manufacturers include a traditional key in case the computer brains fail, but as a dream car maker, Rinspeed is probably less concerned about real-world troubles.
Everything else about the iChange - eco-friendly this, carbon-neutral that - is expected from a futuristic electric car. Rinspeed, however, deserves huge credit. The tiny company, which started retrofitting cars with sunroofs in the 1970s and became legendary for tuning Porsches, has made it a tradition to shock the world each year with concepts like the iChange. Look for it next month at the Geneva Auto Show.
All photos copyright Rinspeed
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