Ford Sync Feature Spotlight: API and Apps (aka AppLink)

Update: Ford has announced the AppLink downloadable program which will be the in-vehicle application that manages the functionality discussed in this post.  It will be available first on the 2011 Ford Fiesta and will allow integration with Android and Blackberry apps.

We’ve talked about the importance of apps in the future of the telematics landscape and Ford Sync will be one of the first to come to the mass market with a product that will allow the vehicle to control applications on a bluetooth enabled device brought to the vehicle (i.e. the modern smartphone).

In general apps can be embedded in the vehicle, delivered in real time or brought into the vehicle.  Most systems will represent a combination of these types of apps, but today we are talking about the way Ford Sync integrates brought in apps.

Ford has created an Application Programming Interface (API) that will allow developers to create (or modify existing) applications to not only display information on the vehicle screens but also be controlled by the voice commands and steering wheel controls of the vehicle’s infotainment system.  So rather than downloading an application into the vehicle or having to plug in an audio cable but pickup the device to change songs Ford Sync will allow users to stream audio and data over the bluetooth connection (just as it does now) and control apps they are already using on their phones more safely (by keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road).

For launch Ford has announced three apps that will include API integration.  Pandora, OpenBeak and Stitcher will be controllable by voice and hard buttons (details below), but will be downloaded to the smartphone and will rely on the phones processing power and connectivity to deliver the services (just like when the phone isn’t in the car).  It’s a very broad strategy that will allow users to continue using the apps they use every day (assuming updates from the developer) on numerous platforms (Android, iPhone, WebOS, etc) at a low cost and with minimal effort.

To start Ford is working with partners to closely control/monitor the functionality of the applications and ensure both their quality and safety.  In the long run though, Ford will  open the API up so developers can integrate the functionality into any app being developed.  This raises some safety and approval questions and rather than inject themselves into the app approval process of the different platforms Ford will rely on the rules engine of the sync system to enforce safety best practices they have defined (e.g. limited menu items or no scroll text).  With a focus on voice controls for safety the in-vehicle system will limit the application to those rules first thus preventing developers from creating overly complex or distracting implementations.

Ford partnered with the University of Michigan-Dearborn to beta test the API and aid in the development of the overall Software Development Kit.  They developed two applications, but there are no announced plans to release those apps (it was really all proof of concept and testing).

In addition to the flexibility of this strategy the ease of development will significantly reduce the time it takes to bring new functionality to the vehicle environment.  Ford reported that one partner developed their application in 3 days…Realistically it’ll take weeks and months for most people to develop quality apps from the ground up, but those folks looking to modify existing applications could have it pretty easy.

Modifying existing apps is great and customers will definitely appreciate the added integration, but for my money I’m looking forward to a whole new breed of location based applications.  Check-in apps like Foursquare and Yelp should come into their own (especially in places like Los Angeles where all we do is drive) and new apps will lead to fun ways to road trip and new avenues for advertisers.  I’ve previously covered Twitter’s GeoAPI and discussed how Twitters platform (if not their current core product) is fantastically suited to deliver real-time information and I would love to see the plethora of Twitter clients out there enabled with a way to automatically provide geo-location as well as traffic flow and incident data.  Companies like Waze which are already focused on this type of information should also get a significant boost from being more cleanly integrated into the overall driving experience.  Depending on what vehicle information Ford makes available to the user (speed, RPM, traction control, etc) there will no doubt be a new breed of apps for capturing, sharing, visualizing and otherwise using that data.

It may be an interesting challenge for developers that are already beginning to struggle with the burden of supporting multiple platforms (tho many are limiting themselves to iPhone and Android for now…why does my WebOS not get the love it deserves?).

Sync isn’t the only system moving towards apps… Continental’s AutoLinQ is based on the Android OS and users will be able to download applications to be used directly within the vehicle systems.  A number of OEMs have announced iPhone and blackberry apps that allow the user to interact with the vehicle remotely.

In the end, the key elements of this type of system are that users are able to interact with the same applications and information they do normally (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc) and that these features be implemented safely (at the very least more safely then using your phone while driving).

Be Sociable, Share!

Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Powered by WordPress