Apple said it is bringing its mobile operating system to automobiles this year with a new CarPlay system that links its iPhone with the vehicle’s in-dash display to allow drivers to access the phone’s maps, music and messages.

Apple’s CarPlay

The company confirmed that Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo will demonstrate the new technology at this week’s Geneva Auto Show and it expects more than a dozen other major car manufacturers to bring the system to its automobiles in the future.

Apple said CarPlay will be available in certain cars later this year from its three European partners as well as Honda, Hyundai and Jaguar.

CarPlay, which will require an update to its current iOS 7 operating system and would only work with iPhone 5S, 5C, and 5, can be activated using a push-and-hold button on the steering wheel, Apple said. CarPlay takes advantage of Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated digital assistant, which will respond to requests through voice commands, by reading drivers’ messages aloud and letting them dictate a reply or make a call.

The announcement is the latest sign of an intensifying fight between Apple and Google’s Android operating system to control the connected cars of the future. It’s an extension of a rivalry rooted in hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablet computers.  With 80 million new cars and light trucks sold each year, automobiles represent a significant new opportunity for Internet-based software and services where Apple and Google are already competing.

In January, Google announced the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance, a group of automakers planning to bring Android to cars. The first cars from the alliance are expected to come out later this year. So far, car companies are playing the field working with both Google and Apple in their respective initiatives.

Apple’s push into the cars has been largely limited to making iPhones and iPods playable with an automobile’s audio system.  Honda has introduced new models that allow the driver to activate Siri, the iPhone’s voice-activated assistant, from a button on the steering wheel, and to talk to Siri using the car’s hands-free audio system.

That enables a driver to use the digital assistant to read out newly arrived email or text messages, check weather, set the navigation system or enter appointments on the iPhone’s calendar – all while keeping both hands on the wheel.

Last June, Apple unveiled the next step with its “iOS in the Car” initiative. The goal was to turn the iPhone into a kind of brain for operating dashboard electronics, using the car’s built-in display to interact with services such as maps and traffic information.

CarPlay is the realization of that vision by working with the car’s built-controls such as buttons, knobs and touch-screen monitors.

“CarPlay has been designed from the ground up to provide drivers with an incredible experience using their iPhone in the car,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing in a press release.

Apple started moving into automobiles with the iPod. When the digital music player started to replace compact disc players as the primary way to listen to music, drivers turned to makeshift accessories to bring the iPod into the car. In 2004, Apple teamed with BMW in 2004 to introduce cars equipped with a cable to link an iPod with the car’s audio system.

Today, Apple says 95% of new cars have built in the ability to play and control music from an iOS device – any iPod, iPhone or iPad running its mobile operating system.