Next IPhone Update Helps Users Read Dashboard Warning Lights

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

When Apple's next operating system drops later this year, it’s supposed to include a feature that will help drivers decipher what those little symbols on the dashboard mean. While unlikely to offer the same amount of information as an OBD-II scanner, iOS 17 will come with an improved version of Visual Look Up. The new system offers users help when they can’t figure out what the warning light displaying the little oil can is trying to convey.

Visual Lookup has been around for a while and offers information using the image data on your phone. While you cannot use it on every image or expect it to provide a wealth of information, it’s pretty good at identifying popular artworks, animal breeds, or plant species. Alphabet offers something similar via Google Lens, for those already familiar.

Based on its previous functions, identifying hieroglyphic warning lights should be a breeze for Apple. However, it’s the kind of service we arguably never needed. While older vehicles couldn’t do much more than illuminate the relevant icon in the hopes that someone would diagnose the problem, newer models have a better chance of displaying text that helps specify what portion of the car is currently worrying the computer. 

Meanwhile, older models were entirely reliant on this strange little object consisting of bound-together pieces of paper that provided information about the vehicle. Usually located in the glove box, this item is called a manual [man-yoo-uhl] and it includes an entire section explaining the purpose and meaning of each symbol. The only drawback is that you have to be willing to read it — something Forbes suggested a lot of drivers just aren’t willing to do due to how pleasantly long many manuals happen to be.

This would be a serious issue if you were required to read the booklet cover to cover each time you picked it up. But we happen to know of a little-known automotive trick that can expedite the process. Rather than thumbing through every single page of the manual, you can utilize the index to find the information you wanted and then turn to the relevant segment. 

Alright, I’m being needlessly sardonic due to how quickly this supposed problem could be solved with some light reading. But automotive illiteracy is actually pretty rampant. I once had someone ask me what it means "when the little mailbox on the dashboard lights up." After a short investigation, the icon turned out to be their check-engine light.

While it’s hard to imagine that there are loads of iPhone owners who are looking at the symbols on their dashboards (which are designed to be easy to understand) and shrugging in perpetual bewilderment, it’s probably more common than we’d like to believe. 

As for how effective Visual Look Up will be on iOS 17, 9to5Mac played with a beta version of the software to see what would be offered and found that the system works as advertised. Users simply need to take a picture of the icons they’re confused about (it doesn’t just need to be warning lights) and Apple will offer an itemized list of what it thinks you’re looking for. Each identified symbol comes with a brief description and comes with a link directing you toward offering more information via the Safari browser. 

Accessing Visual Look Up requires users to open the Photos app on their iPhone and tap on a saved image or paused portion of a video. Assuming iOS 17 has identified symbols, you’ll see a special icon in the bottom toolbar. In the case of auto symbols, this icon will look like a steering wheel, though 9to5Mac said the standard Visual Look Up icon in some instances. 

While iOS 17 was in developer beta testing, the public beta opened earlier this month. iOS 17 should be released to everyone in September and include the automotive update for Visual Look Up. However, there are numerous third-party applications that effectively do something similar and Google has its own Google Lens feature that is not exclusive to Android devices (just like Google Maps). 

Though the information that’s being provided could be easily acquired via a quick internet search. Asking any browser a general question about the icons in your vehicle will yield dozens of sites offering comprehensive answers. However, the manual that came with the vehicle is probably your best resource and, even if you’ve misplaced it, there are plenty of websites dedicated to archiving digital copies for just about every model from the modern era.

[Image: virgmos/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 20 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jul 25, 2023

    How to explain nothing of import in 11 complicated paragraphs.

    What makes anyone at Apple think the average total nitwit will open the app that explains car dashboard light symbols?

    These days a lot of people have forgotten or never learned how to cook water, let alone select some random app on their phone to enlighten their peabrains.

    Was reading recently that 95% of the junk apps that come free (as spyware) on phones, nobody uses. FB, maybe X, texting, maybe a browser if we're talking a real intellectual, Uber, Amazon to buy junk, email maybe and that's about it. Oh yeah, navigation for the terminally lost who see the world as a maze and have never opened an atlas for the big picture. The rest of the phone screen icons are niche apps more or less. Like TTAC itself, which is so niche, nobody really reads it, maybe a thousand pair of eyes . Same with car screen apps and functions -- most people give the complex horsemanure menus no time whatsoever. Learn just enough to make the car move and no more. Maybe turn on the heated seats if they can find a icon with a seat with steam coming off it.

    Yessir, to most folk, modern life is a complete mystery. I'd wager the average dolt doesn't really know the difference between municipal, state and national governements -- i's all just gubmint. Look up functional illiteracy rates on a search engine in a web browser. Now, I know people reading this are not the usual utter dolts roaming the North American landscape, even the dumb trolls are literate, so consider the intellectual dross that lies below that, survives on fast food and snacks for basic nourishment and may or may not know how to operate a toaster. Here's a hint for them -- first you have to visit a store that sells bread slices in bulk. Usually comes in a plastic bag.

  • CEastwood CEastwood on Jul 25, 2023

    People need less apps not more as they depend far too much on their phones as it is . Case in point at a big box hardware store I was looking for an item in the aisle the website said it was in and not seeing it right away I asked a middle aged woman working there where it might be . She immediately started inputting into her phone when I saw the item about one foot in front of where she was standing . Maybe learn the basics of where things are at the place you work at instead of relying on a piece of plastic all the time ?

    How many people actually know the phone numbers of friends and family without looking them up on their phone ? More self reliance less phone reliance is a good thing .

  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys i was only here for torchinsky
  • Tane94 Workhorse probably will be added to the heap of failed EV companies.
  • Freddie Instead of taking the day off, how about an article on the connection between Black Americans and the auto industry and car culture? Having done zero research, two topics pop into my head: Chrysler designer/executive Ralph Gilles, and the famous (infamous?) "Green Book".
  • Tane94 Either Elio Motors or Aptera Motors.
  • Billccm I think we will see history repeat itself. The French acquired AMC in the 1980s, discovered they couldn't make easy money, sold AMC off to Chrysler. Jeep is all that remained. This time the French acquired FCA, and they are discovering no easy profits. Assume an Asian manufacturer will acquire what remains of Chrysler, but this time Jeep and RAM are the only survivors.