Tech giant Apple has been granted a new patent that suggests the iPhone could be used as a remote control for cars in the future.
The patent, which was approved last week by the United States Patent Office, describes a system where the brand's smartphone could be used to remotely start a car, unlock doors or activate climate control from outside the vehicle.
To operate, the iPhone would need to be paired with an accessory device like CarPlay, Apple's in-car entertainment system, unveiled in March 2014.
The system would use the geo-fencing technology available on iPhones to create a virtual boundary around the vehicle. This would enable the system to perform location-sensitive actions – such as locking car doors – if a user strays a certain distance from the car.
Providing customers with the means to remotely connect with their vehicles is a key challenge for many car brands, and some are banking on the potential of wearable technology. At this year's IFA consumer electronics event in Berlin, German automaker BMW announced an iRemote app for the Samsung Gear S smartwatch that's compatible with its new electric i3 model. The app will enable users to locate their car, check fuel levels and find the nearest charging station.
For more on how technology is changing car design, read Connected Cars 2014.