Providing developers the information and tools needed for the creation of relevant, voice-activated experiences inside the car, Ford Motor Co. today announces the launch of the Ford Developer Program (http://developer.ford.com) at the 2013 International CES.
Utilizing the SYNC® connectivity system and AppLink™ application programming interface (API), Ford becomes the first automaker in the world to launch an open developer program that enables software developers to directly interface with the vehicle and create apps that will enhance the driving experience.
"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," said Hau Thai-Tang , vice president of engineering, Ford Global Product Development. "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."
According to a recent Nielsen survey, more than half of all American mobile subscribers now use smartphones of some kind and 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 American users have an average of 67 apps on their devices.
"When we first introduced SYNC in 2007, there was a need for an appropriate way to connect and control cellphones and digital music players in the car due to the massive consumer adoption trend," continued Thai-Tang. "Offering voice control so drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road has proven to be popular with our customers. Now, with an even faster adoption rate of smartphones, there is a need for a renewed focus on voice control for the unique capabilities of these devices, especially for the use of apps."
A recent Frost & Sullivan study shows one in five survey respondents acknowledge using apps while driving with absolutely no connection to the vehicle. While SYNC provides connectivity and voice control for phones and music players via Bluetooth® or USB, AppLink provides a voice-activated interface, allowing drivers to control smartphone apps without the need to pick up their devices. First launched in 2010, SYNC AppLink provides industry-leading voice command and control of mobile apps including popular services like Pandora personalized radio, Stitcher smart radio, NPR News, iHeartRadio digital radio and Scout personal navigation.
"The car presents an all-new opportunity for developers, especially the millennial market, and we're looking forward to seeing what results," said Thai-Tang. "Engaging innovators outside of the company is a key part of our strategy to be consumer-driven in all aspects of our business, helping us not only satisfy what's going on today, but setting us up for innovative solutions to the challenges coming in the future."
Millennials – those aged 18-33 – are particularly interested in customizing their experience with consumer products. Four in 10 respondents to a survey of millennials by Edelman 8095 want the opportunity to influence the products they use. Selecting and using apps is one of the easiest ways to personalize the functionality of both communications devices and vehicles they connect to for a unique user experience.
Ford has been in a beta test with a group of invited developers as they work out details of the software development kit (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 the vast ecosystem of developers try it out.
The Ford program is similar to those at technology companies including Apple, Google and Facebook. App developers who want to enable their creations for AppLink can now register at http://developer.ford.com 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.
"Since launching AppLink, we've worked with developers ranging from a two-man startup at Roximity to large organizations like National Public Radio and Major League Baseball," said Julius Marchwicki , global product manager for Ford SYNC AppLink. "The experience we gained from these projects as well as supporting hackathons at TechCrunch Disrupt and Facebook has helped us refine the development and testing process."
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. Michigan-based jacAPPS will be 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.
"Our focus is to enhance the driving experience by minimizing the distractions caused by hand-held usage of smartphones while driving," added Marchwicki. "We know consumers are using apps such as music and navigation while driving; therefore, by making AppLink available to developers, we can help ensure relevant apps can now be voice-controlled."
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,
In addition to the launch of the Developer Program, Ford has worked with several new partners to offer SYNC AppLink-equipped vehicle owners all-new 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 has announced a collaboration 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. The digital media network of SINA.com (portal), SINA.cn (mobile portal) and Weibo.com (social media) enables Internet users to access professional media and user-generated content in multimedia formats from the Web and mobile devices and share their interests with friends and acquaintances.
"Our Developer Program is open and available to anyone around the world," said John Ellis , global technologist for Ford Connected Services. "A key advantage of our approach is the ability to quickly have relevant apps and services to support the launch of AppLink in Europe and Asia, by making it easy for local developers to tell us what the most popular and important apps are to suit the buyers in that region."
Other new app partners that joined the existing Ford AppLink ecosystem include:
- Wall Street Journal – The Journal's interactive app now features live and on-demand radio programming to stay on top of the latest news, markets, technology and lifestyle coverage from the nation's largest newspaper
- USA Today – Get 24/7 access to the latest USA TODAY content. Hear headlines from News, Money, Sports, Life, Tech and Travel categories. Play, pause, skip and go back within and between stories, for an easily customized listening experience
- Kaliki – Radio talent reads audio versions of the most compelling articles from a variety of magazines and newspapers such as Shape Magazine, TV Guide, Men's Fitness, OK! and Agence France-Presse. Launching with local papers in Detroit and Los Angeles with more publishers to come later in the year. All the content in Kaliki is free, with no subscription required
- Amazon Cloud Player – Drivers can listen to their personal music collection streamed from Amazon's cloud-based music locker service
- Aha Radio – Voice control of more than 30,000 stations of your favorite Internet content – radio, on-demand music services, news, entertainment, podcasts, audiobooks, social feeds, personalized restaurant, coffee, weather and hotel stations, and more
- Rhapsody – Listen to millions of songs, plus radio stations and expert-created playlists from America's top premium subscription music service on the road
- Greater Media – Listen to live streams of favorite radio stations from around the United States
- Glympse – Provide friends and family with an ETA and update of your location in real time on a dynamic map, completely hands-free
- BeCouply – Get instant suggestions for cool date ideas in your area
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," said Doug VanDagens , global director of Ford Connected Services. "With more than 1 billion smartphones now in service around the world, we expect mobile connectivity will continue to grow in importance."