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GM exec: Apps coming to select cars later this year

General Motors is pushing forward on its initiative to build "smart" cars and wants to get its slice of the growing app market.

A concept smart car dashboard by GM, unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February. Roger Cheng/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- General Motors is eager to get its slice of the app pie.

Mary Chan, head of the global connected consumer unit for GM, told CNET that apps would come to select cars in the second half. The initial set of apps will be per-determined by the company, will be available for download, and will make up the early stages of its in-car app store. More importantly, GM will also debut an app framework in these cars that will enable the download of future apps.

With the proliferation of the app market in mobile devices, GM -- and several others in the auto industry -- want to get in on the action. Rather than let smartphones power apps in the car, GM is pushing to get more apps built specifically for its cars, which Chan says creates an easier and safer experience for the driver because it's integrated.

"We don't want the auto industry shying away from apps and pushing it all to the device makers," Chan told CNET on Tuesday.

GM declined to comment on which models would get the apps, but they will be cars from the 2014 line-up (which debuts later this year). Chan said the system is flexible enough so that the cars with early access to apps will be able to access additional apps when more become available. GM will determine the initial set of apps that drivers will be able to access.

GM is still working out the details of the business. Chan said the apps may be free, bundled into a service that GM charges for, or paid out to the developers. Another possibility, a subscription paid for an app on the smartphone could be applied to a separate app in the car. The company is looking at different business models right now.

A concept car with 4G LTE capabilities. Roger Cheng/CNET

But GM has attracted a small following of developers since it opened up its software development kit and application programming interface in January. Since then, 1,800 developers have signed up, with a mix of well-known companies and smaller independent programmers. Chan said the developers are attracted by the opportunity of an entirely new market with a potentially large base of customers.

GM followed up with its developer outreach with an announcement in February to partner with AT&T to introduce cars with 4G LTE capabilities. GM has committed to bringing out millions of connected cars in late 2014.

GM itself plans to build its own set of apps, such as diagnostic programs or other apps specifically built to monitor the car itself, Chan said. She said it was important for GM to work with developers on their apps because they need to be tweaked so they won't distract the driver. Apple's Siri, for example, works with select GM cars but had to be stripped of some capabilities because they were deemed too dangerous or distracting.

"We want to make the experience better," she said.