Report: Apple developing navigation system for Mercedes

Apple is developing a navigation system for Mercedes-Benz, according to German magazine Focus. The technology will debut for the 2009 model year, exclusive to Mercedes automobiles.

Six months later, other automakers will be allowed to license the technology, the report claims.

The first 2009 models are likely to show up in mid to late 2008 -- roughly 12 to 16 months from now. With 2008 models already finalized and either at dealers or arriving this fall, Mercedes is likely already testing the technology in 2009 prototypes, if the rumor is to be believed.

iPhone similarities more than likely

Apple's iPhone is probably a good indicator of what an Apple-designed navigation system would be like. iPhone features an innovative touchscreen-based interface that eliminates the need for any mechanical buttons.

The iPhone goes on sale this month, so firsthand experience with the handset is limited, but Apple promises it's unlike any normal touchscreen device. The $500 phone uses advanced software to make sense of complex movement and input from multiple fingers, resulting in a very intuitive and natural interface.

While "iDrive" from Mercedes-Benz archival BMW has been harshly criticized for unnecessary complexity and cumbersome controls, an Apple-designed navigation/control-center might be better received by the press and general public.

iPhone's Maps application is powered by Google Maps, and chances are the Apple-Mercedes navigation system would use the same technology. Other automakers have made use of Google's software, but none have wrapped it in an interface as slick as that of the iPhone.

Since most modern "navigation" systems offer much more than the name implies, the Apple nav would probably include other features from the iPhone as well. E-mail, calendar, iTunes, and perhaps even internet access are all possible. Integration/syncing with iPhone or other wireless handsets should also be expected.

For an overview of iPhone, click here.

Apple exclusives highly coveted

In 2004, Apple and BMW teamed up to offer the first seamless integration between iPod and a car audio system. Eventually, other automakers -- including Mercedes -- launched similar technologies, but BMW had the jump on the competition.

If true, the navigation deal with Mercedes would be a blow to BMW, especially considering its iDrive problems.