Carmakers let app developers drive innovation

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The possibilities for what you can do with your vehicle's steering wheel buttons, microphone, speakers and internal gauges are quickly expanding. (Reuters) The possibilities for what you can do with your vehicle's steering wheel buttons, microphone, speakers and internal gauges are quickly expanding. (Reuters)
SummaryThe possibilities for what you can do with your vehicle's steering wheel buttons, microphone, speakers and internal gauges are quickly expanding.

Googling the nearest gas station, sending email from your smartphone, or booking a table at a restaurant: Those are all things you shouldn't do while driving. But so many drivers have grown accustomed to their on-the-go tasks that automakers are increasingly trying to make those things easier to pull off with both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

As General Motors and Ford commissioned ideas from app makers this week, the possibilities for what you can do with your vehicle's steering wheel buttons, microphone, speakers and internal gauges are quickly expanding.

How would you like to choose your favorite tune by simply uttering the song's title, turn your car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, or respond to an ad you hear on the radio without lifting a finger?

At the International CES show, General Motors and Ford launched programs that will open their designs to developers, inviting them to create software applications for future car models. It's a relatively new strategy for car makers, but one that many gadget manufacturers employ, including Apple, which did it for the original iPhone in 2007.

The programs free the automakers from having to keep pace with new technologies by tying the functionality of their cars' internal systems to advances in smartphones.

Ford Motor Co.'s app developer program, called Sync AppLink, "is a way for (the company) not to worry about the next big app,'' said product manager Julius Marchwicki.

General Motors Co. said its framework "gives developers a whole new sandbox, with wheels.''

In some ways, though, the current systems inside cars have a long ways to go to provide the functionality that smartphones have offered for years.

For instance, in a demo of Ford's new integration with music service Rhapsody, you can wirelessly sync your phone with the car and listen to playlists you have already created by pressing the voice button on the steering wheel and saying ``play playlist 1.''

But you can't just choose a track by voice on a whim, which is part of what makes these unlimited streaming plans attractive even at $10 a month.

Saying ``Bruno Mars'' to your Ford car won't pull up ``Locked Out of Heaven,'' although typing it on Rhapsody's website or smartphone app can. The same is true of Pandora's radio app in Ford cars.

The company plans to improve the car's ability to respond to voice commands that cover a wider range of search terms and speech in AppLink

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