Ford Sync development box

Both Ford and General Motors revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show that they will allow outsiders to develop software for their respective in-car electronics systems. Ford will make it easier and cheaper for programmers to create software for Sync AppLink, while GM is opening up the bones of its MyLink system.

Ford believes that young car buyers are particularly interested in software that can operate smartphone apps from within a car. The Sync AppLink system already offered features like iHeartRadio internet radio and The Wall Street Journal, and this week Ford launched several new apps: a dating app called BeCouply, a location-transmitting one called Glympse, Rhapsody internet radio, the Kaliki newspaper reader, and a USA Today reader. Now, Ford wants independent programmers to come up with even more ideas.

Developers can download a Software Development Kit (SDK) at that contains sample code and guides to building programs for Sync AppLink. If Ford likes the app, the automaker will work with the software company to publish the app online and make it available in Ford vehicles. Developers can get a physical mock-up of the Ford Sync interface (pictured above).

Ford Sync engineer Liz Haslash says the advantage of this approach is that consumers can create apps they want, rather than Ford simply guessing what features car owners might want. And as Ford expands the availability of AppLink to Europe and Asia this year, foreign programmers can create region-specific features. Because all of the apps run on a user’s smartphone, rather than being downloaded to the Ford Sync hardware itself, they can easily be updated.

“You always have the latest and greatest apps,” says Haslash. “It never gets stale.”

Chevrolet MyLink Weather Channel app 300x187 imageGeneral Motors also announced, where programmers can download a software development kit (SDK) for apps used on its MyLink infotainment system. Here at CES, GM showed off three sample Internet radio apps, as well as one from The Weather Channel (at left). As is the case with Ford, GM hopes that internet- and smartphone-connected features will draw in younger car buyers. If GM likes an app developed by a third party, it will help market the software so anyone with MyLink-equipped GM vehicle can use the program.

One difference from Ford AppLink, however, is that developers can create software that runs on the MyLink internal computer rather than a smartphone. That would allow the app to gather specific data from the car, like tire pressures or navigation information. One app under development, for instance, checks gas prices along a preset route and adjusts the navigation directions to the most cost-effective fill-up locations.

GM says that the new SDK will work with “select” 2014-model-year vehicles — likely the new Impala and Spark EV.

By Jake Holmes

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