Dashboard Warning Lights Decoded by iPhone – New iOS 17 Feature

car warning lights
iPhone Update Explains Dashboard Warning LightsRMAX - Getty Images
  • No need to feel intimidated by the growing array of icons on your car’s dashboard, at least not if you have an iPhone with the upcoming iOS 17 update.

  • iOS 17 introduces Visual Look Up, a way to identify objects in pictures. The new feature explicitly identifies in-car symbols, offering a way to know what those squiggly lines and trapezoids mean.

  • Not everyone needs this kind of information, but for people who don’t drive often or might otherwise feel uncertain about a car’s features, this promises to be a simple way to learn what that button does.

Modern smartphones have the power to connect to satellites, reach people around the world, and, finally, tell you what that unknown dashboard light means.

Okay, okay, we hear you. This is news? Cars have had actual paper manuals that should help any driver understand what this red or that orange warning light is all about. But not everyone wants to read a paper manual when a phone is at hand, and sometimes we just like pretending we're from the future.

new features for iphone ios 17 beta
NurPhoto - Getty Images

Enter Apple's upcoming software update for the iPhone, called iOS 17, and its ability to identify dashboard lights using Visual Look Up. Visual Look Up does exactly what you would think it does: identify something in a picture or video and then searching for information on that item. A Reddit user noticed an "auto symbol" category in the beta version of the software and shared three examples: hazard warning, windscreen defrost and ventilation airflow.


The Apple-focused website 9to5Mac tested the beta software and found the symbol look-up feature to "just work" and that it can "identify multiple symbols and icons in the same picture." 9to5Mac found that Visual Look Up can identify such features as dashboard lights, climate control symbols, headlight options, and defrosting. The phone's results provide a short description of the icon and a link to find more information.

The phone can identify these symbols anywhere on the dashboard, not just for warning lights. Want to know what a button in a rental car does before you push it? Visual Look Up can tell you.

Android Options

People with Android phones can get similar help by using Google Lens (also available to Apple users). This general app can identify objects in pictures or the live feed from the camera. If Android users don’t want to bother with the camera aspect, they can check out the third-party Dashboard Warning Lights app. This app won’t identify the symbols independently but presents images of standard warning lights and explains what they mean.
When iOS 17 arrives, Apple’s annual operating system update will have a few other features of potential interest to drivers. The built-in Maps app will not be able to download map data, so it can be used offline (something Google Maps has been capable of for years), and it will feature real-time electric vehicle charging station availability along your route, as long as your charging network provides this kind of data.

iOS 17 arrives in September as a free upgrade for compatible phones.

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