Ford, GM, open up to developers at CES 2013
GM announced its new app framework at CES 2013, which will support third-party apps.(Credit:GM)
LAS VEGAS--Ford and GM both surprised the automotive and technology worlds by announcing developer programs for their in-car software platforms, essentially replicating the ecosystem of the smartphone on the dashboard. Both launched Web sites with nearly identical URLs, developer.ford.com and developer.gm.com, to support independent development of apps for their cars.
Ford already boasts about 20 apps integrated with its Sync AppLink system, with nine new apps announced at the show. GM is behind in the dashboard app game, but the open development program should give it a jumpstart.
The programs are designed to encourage developers to adapt existing apps or come up with completely new apps for use in the car. GM seemed particularly keen on having developers take advantage of some of the vehicle information it makes available through its app framework, such as fuel level and vehicle speed.
While Ford already had its Sync AppLink system, GM launched its own app framework at the show, a platform that will underlie its MyLink and IntelliLink branded systems.
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Ford had already been working with developers to some degree, offering up its APIs that let apps take advantage of Sync AppLinks advanced voice command features and touchscreen interface. GM is also letting developers at its APIs, so apps can make use of a vehicles interface options.
Despite the open nature of development, both Ford and GM retain approval authority for apps, so they can ensure the functions are safe to use in the car. Ford came out and said it would not permit apps for games or video in Sync AppLink.
Although we can expect a smaller number of apps for the car than for a device like the iPhone, that potential number grows very large when you consider that there are currently over 700,000 apps in the iTunes store. Cars in the near future seem likely to let drivers install apps for a variety of uses into the dashboard. Similar to a smartphone, you might have your favorite apps to load up when you get a new car, then explore more options. A particularly useful app may even influence car buyers to towards a model that supports it.
Reinventing the smartphoneIt might seem silly to duplicate the app infrastructure currently found on smartphones, yet making apps native to the car offers a few advantages. First of all, smartphones were not made to be used while driving. Automakers are loathe to fully integrate a smartphone interface into the dashboard because they would have no control over how it would be used, and so face liability if a driver got into an accident while playing a game, for example.
Second, the cars dashboard, even with an embedded touchscreen, is designed for driving. Touchscreens in the dashboard are typically much larger than those on smartphones, and automakers have full control over the interface design. Voice command systems can be designed to work with the car, and buttons mounted on the steering wheel let drivers operate technology features while keeping full control.
Finally, an in-car app system can take advantage of vehicle data not available to a smartphone. Trip apps could help drivers save fuel by calculating long-term fuel efficiency and coach in efficient driving techniques. Performance apps could be fun for track day enthusiasts, and even link to online competition ladders.
As only two automakers announced open app developer programs, it might seem premature to name it a trend. However, GM and Ford together sold almost 15 percent of the worlds cars last year. GM was the top seller, over all other automakers, while Ford carved out a significant chunk for itself in sixth place. That sheer volume suggests other automakers will need to look at launching their own programs, if they want to remain competitive.
To head off complaints about developers having to build apps for a dozen different automotive platforms, Ford also took the extraordinary step of saying it would let other automakers use its Sync AppLink platform, free of charge.
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