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Ford, GM rolling out third-party developer programs for in-vehicle apps

Reflecting the rapid evolution of the automobile as an application development platform, both Ford and GM announced programs to support third-party development of in-vehicle applications at CES in Las Vegas. The Ford Developer Program for open mobile apps provides a software development kit (SDK), technical support from Ford engineers and a developer community to enable utilizing the SYNC connectivity system and AppLink application programming interface (API).

General Motors announced its flexible application framework that will allow drivers to add apps and features to their vehicles after the initial purchase. The framework enables new set of vehicle APIs for developers, allowing them to interact with and build upon the infotainment systems in GM vehicles.

Ford Developer Program. Ford has been in a beta test with a group of invited developers as they work out details of the SDK, documentation and technical support systems. With more than three dozen AppLink-compatible apps publicly available on Apple iOS and Google Android, the SDK is now mature enough that Ford engineers are ready to let larger ecosystem of developers try it out.

App developers who want to enable their creations for AppLink can now register at to download the AppLink SDK. The SDK contains code libraries and documentation for the APIs that enable two-way communication between mobile apps and the vehicle, including voice commands from the driver.

According to a recent Nielsen survey cited by Ford, more than 50% of US mobile subscribers now use smartphones of some kind; two-thirds of newly activated phones can run apps. Globally, there are now more than 1 billion smartphone users, a population that is expected to double by 2015. More than 55 billion apps have been downloaded from the leading digital markets, and US users have an average of 67 apps on their devices.

In addition to the libraries and documentation, developers will have access to technical support directly from Ford engineers and online discussion forums where they can share lessons learned with other developers.

Developers who have a great idea for an app but need some help building it can turn to jacAPPS—the recommended mobile app development house for the Ford Developer Program. The company has been chosen to provide development and technical support to third-party developers wanting to create voice-activated smartphone apps for Ford SYNC AppLink.

Currently, the three main categories of AppLink-enabled apps include:

  • News and Information
  • Music and Entertainment
  • Navigation and Location

Once a developer has incorporated AppLink code into the app, it will be submitted for review by Ford engineers to ensure it works properly and is suitable for use in the vehicle. Once approved, Ford will then work with the developer to provide a distribution license, after which the app is submitted to the relevant app marketplace.

In addition to the launch of the Developer Program, Ford has worked with several new partners to offer SYNC AppLink-equipped vehicle owners voice-activated versions of their apps.

To showcase the global nature of the Developer Program and launch of AppLink in Europe and Asia later this year, Ford is collaborating with Sina to enable its Weibo mobile app with AppLink for use in Ford vehicles to provide news, weather, microblogging and location-based services. Sina is an online media company serving China and the global Chinese communities.

SYNC was co-developed by Ford and Microsoft based on the recognition that consumer electronics evolve much more rapidly than vehicles. The connectivity system was architected to work with the mobile devices that drivers use every day, while providing an upgrade path that can bring new capabilities into the vehicle.

Since debuting in 2007 on the Focus, Ford has added numerous features to SYNC including AppLink, 911 Assist, Vehicle Health Report and SYNC Services, a cloud-based service network featuring traffic reports, turn-by-turn directions, business search, news, sports scores and movie listings.

Thanks to our partner Microsoft and their expertise, we have turned the car into a development platform with extensive opportunities to continue to add value through new features delivered at the speed consumers now expect. With more than 1 billion smartphones now in service around the world, we expect mobile connectivity will continue to grow in importance.

—Doug VanDagens, global director of Ford Connected Services

GM application framework. GM will offer developers an SDK through an online portal at This will allow developers to work with GM in a secure and controlled manner to design, test and deliver integrated automotive apps. GM is using the HTML5 Java Script framework in its SDK as well.

We have designed our SDK so that developers only have to write the software code once to address the entire population of vehicles and end users. Developers can repurpose existing tools and code from existing projects as long as they’re consistent with applicable licenses. Our app policies will also provide flexibility in how developers can design commercial aspects of their apps as well.

—GM Chief Infotainment Officer Phil Abram

The implementation of these apps is incorporated into new infotainment systems—debuting in select 2014 model year vehicles—that will change how in-vehicle apps are offered. The system’s framework includes a catalog that will allow vehicle owners to choose from a menu of available applications specifically designed for the in-vehicle experience.

In addition, the framework will allow developers to create a new category of vehicle apps.

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. It’s not just taking phone apps and making them function in a car, which most car companies do in some form now. Instead, GM may approve applications that stem from vehicle ownership. For example, customers can choose to download applications that assist them in driving more safely or in a more fuel efficient manner, possibly decreasing the costs of vehicle ownership.

—Phil Abram

Once these apps are created and have been approved by GM, future owners of certain GM models will be able to download them directly to the vehicle through the app catalog to to personalize and to update the apps in their vehicles.

Until now, GM has offered only select developers access to remote APIs that interact with the vehicle via the OnStar system. The new SDK will expand the environment so developers can work with the actual vehicle through the infotainment system.

GM sells more than 9 million vehicles globally on an annual basis, which creates a large base of potential app-capable vehicles on which for developers can work. Following the select 2014 US model year rollout, the intent is for the new app framework to be available over time on global brands, increasing the opportunity for local customization.

GM will define a full certification process and business model for applications. After developing apps, developers will have an online opportunity to submit them on the dedicated online portal. If approved, GM will provide the developer with next steps to test and publish the app for customer access.

The online developer portal includes a forum where developers can ask questions of a technical specialist. The portal also will host a blog for developers to keep them informed on the latest news and information. GM says it will use the input and feedback from the developer community to continuously improve the app framework.


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