With earlier versions of Sync AppLink, Ford promoted partnerships with independent app developers, inviting them to tailor their apps for Ford's in-dash infotainment system. At its developer conference this weekend, Ford introduces its heavily redesigned Sync 3 system to developers, adding graphics to the previous voice command-based system.
And using its home-court advantage, Ford gives AppLink developers access to in-car data, such as location, fuel economy, speed and a host of other information unavailable toor .
The advent of computer-driven infotainment systems and connectivity in cars lead to a difficult period as automakers attempted to build their own dashboard navigation head units, drawing features and influences from smartphones. Ford was particularly aggressive in its development, but the previous version of its Sync infotainment system suffered from a clunky interface, and it never managed to bring its AppLink app integration to models with its graphic GPS head units.
Sync 3 addresses these earlier problems, providing a new, faster and simpler graphic interface that supports AppLink. CNET got an, which will be in every new Ford model by the end of 2016, in June of this year.
At this weekend's developer conference, 200 independent app developers will get to try out a new set of tools, including application programming interfaces and a vehicle data simulator. Ford will also host a Hackathon, where developers could win a two-year lease on a Sync 3-equipped Ford vehicle or a trip to CES 2016.
Julius Marchwicki, Ford's AppLink Product Manager, told CNET that Sync 3 will let developers access data generated by its cars and carried on their CANbus networks. These in-vehicle networks, used by all new cars, carry everything from engine data to windshield wiper status.
Marchwicki said that Ford breaks this data out into three categories: location-based, vehicle status and driving dynamics. The location-based category includes information from the car's own GPS chip, while the vehicle status category shows the car's current odomoter reading, whether the doors are locked or open, and a wealth of other data. The driving dynamics category offers fuel consumption, steering wheel angle, accelerator position and any other running data.
Developers will be able to build apps for iOS and Android taking advantage of this data. When a driver brings her phone into a Sync 3-equipped Ford car, she can control these apps from the car's dashboard, and also have this information handy in the app outside of the car. For example, a fuel-economy coaching app could include a history of efficient driving, show warnings on the car's LCD about inefficient driving, and even record the most efficient route to a particular destination.
AppLink in Sync 3 represents the first time that developers can use a graphical interface for apps in Ford vehicles, adding touchscreen control to the existing voice-command library. Marchwicki said that AppLink comes with a set of interface templates to which developers will need to conform. These templates are designed as a non-distracting interface, using a consistent format from app to app. Ford also monitors interface design, such as limiting the number of submenus included in a specific application.
Even before Sync 3, Ford was interested in making its app interface universal, offering it to other automakers for free. While earlier efforts may not have been completely successful, Toyota has already agreed on a partnership with Ford on SmartDeviceLink, the underlying technology to AppLink. Marchwicki said that Toyota is actively working on the SmartDeviceLink platform, and will speak at the Ford Developer conference this weekend.
If Ford can get Toyota on board with this app interface technology, these two high-volume automakers will be a strong incentive for app developers to build for their cars.