Automakers embrace apps

9 January 2013

NEW YORK: Automakers such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are embracing in-car apps as they seek to build loyalty and engagement among consumers.

Ford has launched a scheme letting developers create new apps, or adapt those for the Apple iOS and Google Android operating system with the AppLink software that powers its SYNC in-car entertainment service.

"The Ford developer program marks a dramatic shift in how we will innovate new features and add value to our vehicles throughout the ownership period," Hau Thai-Tang, vice president of engineering, Ford Global Product Development, said, Forbes reported.

"Opening the car to developers gives consumers a direct voice and hand in the creation of apps that can help our products remain relevant, up to date and valuable to our customers."

Some 4,000 developers have requested to access this platform so far. Ford has also worked with partners like USA Today and the Wall Street Journal on voice-activated apps providing the latest news.

Rhapsody, a cloud-based music streaming service, and BeCouply, supplying dating ideas for couples, are just two of the other players that have formed tie-ups with the company.

"It's a bold move by Ford, which may lead to faster industry adoption of in-vehicle applications," Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at research firm Gartner, told Wired. "But it also underlines the challenge for automakers to attract application developers. No developer can afford to do custom work for every automaker."

General Motors has announced a similar scheme, with the first fruits likely to debut in 2014. As with Ford, it will approve all apps, partly to ensure they don't contain distracting content like video or games.

"There will be a category of apps that will be unique to our cars and very different from what people use today on their smartphones or tablets," Phil Abram, GM's chief infotainment officer, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's not just taking phone apps and making them functional in a car."

Among the operators conducting initial tests are The Weather Channel and music services iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Slacker. GM also recently held a 36-hour "Hackathon" with 450 developers to generate ideas.

For its part, Chrysler has added radio apps Aha, iHeartRadio and Pandora to its Uconnect system. It is the 19th auto brand to partner with Pandora, which sees great potential in this area.

"Pandora has reached a level of ubiquity that allows music fans to tune-in to personalised radio anytime, anywhere," Joe Kennedy, its chairman and chief executive, said.

Data sourced from Forbes, Wired, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff