The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is an almost fitting stage for Ford and General Motors to announce that they will open up their respective connectivity platforms to third-party app developers.
The moves appear to be an attempt to shorten product cycles on the dashboard and accelerate the focus on what is becoming a huge battleground for auto makers.
Ford Sync has been popular in the company’s cars, but the AppLink add-on introduced at CES a few years ago has fizzled after the initial hype. It only offers a handful of apps and has limited reach with it still not available in Canada, though Ford reps suggested that could change before the end of the year.
GM’s OnStar is better known for its roadside assistance and navigation services, but executives at the show made clear that there will be a considerable effort to encourage developers to create apps for the platform and give drivers a litany of options to choose from. Both Ford and GM will supply the tools to developers in the form of SDKs and APIs online.
There will also be a vetting process run by engineers at both companies that would reject any apps that play video, games or may be otherwise distracting to the driver. Conceptually, the idea is similar to Apple’s App Store in that apps can be developed, and upon approval, would be released to an “app catalogue” that drivers can download from.
In addition, the apps will be categorized to make it easier to browse, and browsing would almost certainly be limited to when the car is idle or off. They will have to be developed in English first, with other languages to follow at an undetermined time.
Ford went a step further and announced that it would also open up its AppLink API to competitors in the hope that a more streamlined and standardized platform can be developed within the industry, not unlike how Google Android has been adopted by a number of mobile device manufacturers.
By integrating apps directly into the vehicle’s infotainment system rather than leveraging compatible ones from drivers’ smartphones, Ford and GM would ostensibly also be agnostic to the mobile operating systems those phones run on. The phone would be mostly needed for its data connection and storage capacity, and it could run any of the apps smoothly, provided they’re available and have been approved.
GM demonstrated its vision for an app catalogue with four potential partners in TuneIn, Slacker, iHeartRadio and The Weather Channel. This could entice developers who have already designed smartphone and tablet apps to create versions that are specific to vehicles – sort of what happened when smartphone apps were redesigned for tablets.
Both companies are aiming to release them in select 2014 models in the U.S., with other markets – that includes Canada – to follow some time thereafter.