Apps in your car

The integration of apps running on your car's infotainment system may be the next big thing.

Personal computers started the trend and smartphones refined it. It's apps: software written not by the computer or smartphone manufacturers, but by an army of third-party programmers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about apps that will run on your car infotainment system may be the way they will be able to get information from your car and in some case even control things in your car.

Not surprisingly, the car industry wants a slice of the action. It's a big, innovative step for carmakers to take.

Similar to the way apps on your smartphone can use your GPS, vehicle apps will be able to get vehicle data from your car.

Ford's new SYNC AppLink uses a smartphone to integrate vehicle and third-party apps.

Once in place, it is hoped that such apps will add utility and functionality to a car, and will revolutionise how we use our cars when out and about. What's even more exciting is that while traditionally the driver has been limited to what the car manufacturer gives youi, these apps - just like for smartphones - can be developed by "third parties". And it will allow apps to be easily updated over timeii.

That's not to say that all apps will be car-focused: successful smartphone app makers like Spotify, iHeartRadio and Amazonii, iii, have already demonstrated their apps on the new platformsi.

GM's MyLink in action in one of their Chevrolet cars.

App-vehicle integration directly with the in-car system

For this type of app-vehicle integration, developers will have to design software-specific apps for the installed in-car system. Notably, this approach is being used by General Motors (GM) which have designed their own app framework for their vehiclesiv, and are encouraging third-party developers to write apps specifically for it (in particular their Infotainment and OnStar systemsv). The initiative is called the GM Developer Programi.

By asking developers to create 'a new category of vehicle apps'ii, GM hopes that the apps will assist the driver in a GM car. GM's Chief Infotainment Officer Phil Abram says that these apps could 'assist [customers] in driving more safely or in a more fuel efficient manner', for exampleii.

App-vehicle integration via a smartphone

Beyond auxiliary cables and Bluetooth capability (well-established in cars on the market), smartphone-vehicle integration relies on assimilating the smartphone's software with the car's infotainment software.

Ford's approach is for a smartphone to be used together with its SYNC AppLink systemvi. Once plugged into the car, users will be able to interact with their smartphone apps by voice control or buttons on their Ford steering wheelvi. The apps will have to be compatible with both the smartphone's software and the AppLink software - something that developers on the Ford Developer Program will have to consider in their design. More than 2,500 developers have signed up for the program since Ford's initial appeal in 2013iii.

Developers for the Car Connectivity Consortium's (CCC) MirrorLink technology - mirroring the smartphone's screen on a screen built into the car - will have to do something similar: design apps that are both smartphone and MirrorLink-enabledvii. The CCC authorises apps as MirrorLink Certified when they are deemed suitable for use in the carviii. Members of the CCC - 80% of the world's automakers - will be able to have this technology in their carsi. Like the other smartphone-connected systems, cars operating the Livio infotainment software (a protocol that liaises apps with hardware devicesii) will have to use apps that are Livio Connect-enabledi.

With car manufacturers on the app bandwagon, it looks like more and more app-enabled cars could be on the market within the next few years. Are you looking forward to an app-enabled future for your car? Tell us your thoughts on the Allianz AU Facebook page!


i Purewal, S.J., 2013, for the PC World ‘Car Tech’ blog, The open source car: automakers eagerly woo app developers, http://www.pcworld.com/article/2024572/the-open-source-car-automakers-eagerly-woo-app-developers.html

ii GM News, 2013, Media release: GM gives developers a whole new sandbox, with wheels, 8 January 2013, http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2013/Jan/0108-sdk.html

iii Fitchard, K., 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek, Spotify joins Ford’s roster of in-car music apps, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-25/spotify-joins-fords-roster-of-in-car-music-apps

iv Purewal, S.J., 2013, for the PC World ‘Car Tech’ blog, GM joins Ford on infotainment platform for app developers, http://www.pcworld.com/article/2024222/gm-joins-ford-on-infotainment-platform-for-app-developers.html

v GM, 2013, For developers, https://developer.gm.com/

vi Ford, 2013, SYNC AppLink, http://www.ford.com/technology/sync/features/sync-app-link/

vii Connected Car Consortium, 2013, MirrorLink, Media release: Countdown to the world’s first MirrorLink DevCon begins today, 8 January 2013, http://www.cnet.com.au/android-jelly-bean-4-1-339340621.htm

viii Connected Car Consortium, 2013, MirrorLink FAQs, http://www.mirrorlink.com/about/faq.html

ix Livio Connect API, What is Livio Connect?, http://livioconnect.com/