Ford invites more development of car apps

The applications will be available in the Android and BlackBerry app stores

Ford is releasing a software development kit to more companies, inviting them to build applications for its Sync in-car voice-activated computer.

So far, Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio providers, and OpenBeak, a Twitter app, have built apps, but Ford is now offering the SDK to others. People with cars that have Sync can use those apps in the cars, directing them using voice commands.

Ford's API gives app developers access to the voice recognition capability of Sync as well as buttons on the steering wheel.

Customers will be able to find and download new apps to Sync via the existing app stores connected to their phones. So far, Ford will let developers add their apps to the Android Market and the BlackBerry App World, but it has plans to include the iPhone App Store and Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace.

Cars equipped with Sync have USB ports that let users connect their phones to the cars and then install the apps on the cars.

Ford has not opened the SDK to anyone and it did not say which companies it has released the SDK to. "Our first approach will be evaluating existing apps that fit into categories that we think are appropriate for safe in-car use," said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development at Ford, during a keynote presentation at the CTIA conference in San Francisco on Friday.

The categories include personalized entertainment, information and news, location-based services, notifications and alerts, financial apps and scheduling.

Kuzak offered some ideas of the kinds of apps Ford would like to see developers build. For instance, it is interested in applications that make access to the Internet useful to the driver in a safe way.

One example could be an application that offers specific information about dangerous intersections. "It would be like a talking traffic sign that warns you of the history of an intersection," he said.

Another could be a service that identifies available parking spaces. In a garage, the app could identify a parking spot and let the driver reserve and pay for that spot.

Others could build on social networking. A driver on a cross-country road trip might want to look for a restaurant other then the typical fast food spots available off the highway. The driver could pull over and look up an application like Yelp for recommendations, he noted. "But what about taking it a step further and asking for recommendations from your social network of friends?" Kuzak said. He imagines an app that would let the driver use a voice command to send out a request for nearby restaurant recommendations to friends on a social-networking site. The driver would then get recommendations from friends who might already know the kind of restaurant the driver might like.

In addition to inviting developers to build apps for Sync, Kuzak used his time on stage to encourage mobile-phone makers to use a new Bluetooth standard so that more phones will be compatible with Sync's hands-free text feature. The Sync MyFord Touch service lets drivers listen to incoming texts and reply to them via voice response. So far, only about six phones are compatible, however. Those phones incorporate the Bluetooth Message Access Profile standard.

"RIM's adoption of the MAP standard for BlackBerry is much appreciated, but we need to see the standard more widely adopted," Kuzak said. Research In Motion has said it plans to implement MAP in all new BlackBerry phones, Ford said.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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