Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) says technology letting drivers use iPhones with voice commands or steering-wheel buttons will be available in vehicles as early as this year.

“Control with a word. Or a touch. Or a twist,” Apple says on its website in unveiling a new system called CarPlay.

“CarPlay features Siri voice control and is specially designed for driving scenarios. It also works with your car’s controls — knobs, buttons, or touchscreen. And the apps you want to use in the car have been reimagined, so you can use them while your eyes and hands stay where they belong.”

Fiat SpA’s Ferrari supercar division, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz luxury unit and Volvo Car Group will show customers the CarPlay system this week, with other auto producers introducing it later, Cupertino, California-based Apple said Monday in a statement.

CarPlay will be available as an update to the iOS 7 mobile software on iPhones, and works with the Siri voice-recognition feature.

Apple says CarPlay will work with voice, touch screens as well as traditional knobs and controls.

  • Voice

“To activate Siri voice control, just press and hold the voice control button on the steering wheel.”

  • Touch

“If your CarPlay-equipped vehicle has a touchscreen, you can use it to control CarPlay.”

  • Knobs and Controls

“CarPlay also works with the knobs, dials, or buttons in the car. If it controls your screen, it controls CarPlay.”

Many Buyers Want In-Vehicle Technology

In-vehicle technology is the top selling point for 39 percent of car buyers, more than twice the 14 percent who cited traditional performance measures such as power and speed as their first consideration, consulting company Accenture said in a study published in December.

However, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, vowed in February to pursue rules for in-vehicle use of mobile phones and Internet-linked entertainment systems unless carmakers and suppliers do more to limit disruptions to drivers’ focus.

“CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s marketing vice president for the mobile device, said in today’s statement, released in advance of the technology’s debut at the Geneva International Motor Show this week.

Integrating Apple, But Facing Competition

While many Apple products, beginning with the iPod more than a decade ago, have had the ability to work with car audio systems, CarPlay takes the integration a step further, giving users a familiar interface for music, maps and voice-based actions. Carmakers adopting CarPlay can easily appeal to Apple’s large customer base, according to Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“The car effectively becomes the second screen for the iPhone,” said Gillett. “This will make things extremely easy for consumers to use, because we already know how to use our Apple devices.”

Microsoft and BlackBerry are also competing to get their technology into automobile entertainment systems. Ford Motor Co., which has more than 7 million vehicles on the road using Microsoft’s software, will switch to BlackBerry’s QNX systems, people briefed on the matter have said. Manufacturers who are working with those companies may still be compelled to support CarPlay, Gillett said.

“Apple has a really appealing installed base,” he said.