Have You Hacked a Ford Lately?
January 16, 2013
"What's the coolest thing you saw at CES this year?"
That's a question I've been asked a lot this week. And it's a difficult one to answer. Whether you're into ridiculously expensive TVs , brainwave cat ears , 3D printers, or LL Cool J, you'd be pretty hard-pressed not to find something remotely interesting at CES. But how far can you get on cool alone?
TVs are getting bigger, phones are getting smarter, and video games are getting more realistic; booooring. That's great and all, but predictable. The things that excite me the most are applications and products that solve problems, streamline life, and break a little ground for others to build upon. And that's exactly why I fell in love with Ford all over again last week.
With the launch of their third-party developer program, Ford is opening up their SYNC AppLink API to the general public. And it's kind of a big deal. What it means is just about anyone will be able to integrate smartphone apps (currently iOS and Android) with SYNC-enabled Ford cars. This provides developers with some really interesting vehicle data including speed, GPS and fuel economy. Not to mention, access to the voice interface and in-vehicle speech recognition system, radio/touchscreen display and steering wheel button controls.
While voice-activated texts and bluetooth calls are handy, encourage safer driving, and help moms all over the world channel Tom Cruise in Minority Report, Ford is encouraging developers to think a little harder and focus on news, productivity and navigation specific applications. But if you ask me, the really innovative stuff is going to be rooted in vehicle data. Just imagine an app that compares your current location with open crime data. Maybe you get a warning before parking on a street where cars have been burglarized in the past. Or, perhaps your doors lock and windows roll up when you enter a bad neighborhood. Whatever comes of it, two things are for sure. Ford has come a long way since "Play artist: The Strokes" and the possibilities will prove to be endless.
It won't be all fun and games though. There are some pretty strict requirements and an approval process that's rumored to rival that of Apple's, and an additional testing phase to be completed before Ford will sign off on a license permitting distribution in Google Play and the iOS App Store. So you won't be catching up on Instagram or playing Angry Birds in traffic any time soon - at least not in your dashboard.
SYNC AppLink is available in all new Ford vehicles and is compatible with most Android, BlackBerry, and iOS devices. Prior to launching the developer program, AppLink was made available only by invitation to a handful of partners including Wall Street Journal, Amazon, NPR, Pandora and MLB.com with a catalog totaling around 3 dozen apps. Stacked up against nearly 1M iOS apps and 600k Android apps, 3 dozen may seem a little weak. But once developers get their hands on the SDK and start experimenting, we're sure to see some really interesting apps vying for space in the dashboard this year.