Chevrolet App Shop replicates a smartphone in the dashboard

At CES 2014, Chevrolet showed off its new App Shop, a means by which vehicle owners can add features to their cars through apps.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Josh Miller/CNET
Chevrolet App Shop
At CES 2014, Chevrolet's App Shop opened for business. Josh Miller/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- While many automakers concentrate on how to connect phones to the car, Chevrolet used CES 2014 to take a different approach, essentially building smartphone-equivalent functionality into the dashboard. The new feature is called App Shop, and will be available this year in select models.

App Shop expands on the Chevy MyLink system, which already uses a touch screen and icon-based interface. Chevy gave me a demonstration of the new feature in an Impala after a press conference.

Among the familiar icons of MyLink, which cover navigation, phone, and the stereo, Chevrolet included another icon calls Apps. An owner will be able to tap the icon and browse apps that Chevrolet has approved for use in the car, choosing which to install.

The new Chevrolet models will also have a 4G/LTE data connection to speed app downloads.

Rather than just porting existing apps over to Chevrolet's platform, the company is insisting developers optimize the interface for the vehicle. These apps, written in HTML5, must use simple interfaces that minimize the time that drivers interact with them.

Hands-on with Chevy App Shop (pictures)

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For example, The Weather Channel app showed a large, easy-to-read five-day forecast. It included buttons to make the car read out the forecasted weather conditions. Glympse, another included app, is already somewhat tailored to driving on the smartphone, but in the car it showed an even larger format. It presents drivers with just a few large buttons on each screen, minimizing the time it takes to use the app.

Among the new apps available, PriceLine was a surprise inclusion. The app is optimized for the car, letting the driver quickly initiate a search for nearby hotels. The results page only lists three entries per screen.

To highlight how MyLink is superior to using a smartphone in the car, Chevy showed a vehicle maintenance app that could draw on information, such as oil level, from the car's CAN Bus system. The maintenance app shows when fluids need replacing and other vehicle diagnostics, and lets an owner schedule a dealer appointment at the push of a button.

The apps responded quickly in this demonstration vehicle, with some lag for data load times. The hardware supporting MyLink appears to be robust enough to handle the graphics and multiple apps running on it.

Lacking with the new app support is much in the way of voice command. The apps shown were all touch-controlled. A Chevrolet spokesperson said voice command over the apps would be the next step.