Ford, Toyota Launch In-Car App Standard

LAS VEGAS — Google and Apple have so far taken control of connecting smartphone apps to your car, with their Android Auto and CarPlay platforms. Traditional carmakers, however, do not particularly like giving up control of in-car infotainment.

Enter the SmartDeviceLink Consortium (SDL), open source code for connecting apps to in-vehicle platforms that launched yesterday.

Formed by two major OEMs – Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co. – the open source platform will give automakers and suppliers a uniform standard with which to integrate various apps. Think of it as an API for every future car. The technology is based on Ford’s Sync AppLink software, which allows drivers to control smartphone apps through voice control, steering wheel or infotainment screen, without a third-party involvement. The tech already allows Ford drivers to mange several popular apps, such as Pandora and Spotify.

Most notably, the technology will give app developers the freedom to work on creating new applications, without the need of adjusting those to different operating systems, Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services at Ford, said during the Consumer Telematics Show here.

“There are significant resources that go into the development of an app, and it just doesn’t make sense for developers to tailor their apps for the different environments of different cars,” he said. “So we have ‘commonized’ the interface for different OEMs, and have opened the platform up to encourage others to participate.”

SDL adds an extra layer of security around consumer data, Butler added, allowing carmakers to control how the driver data is being shared.

Mazda Motor Corp., PSA Group, Fuji Heavy Industries  and Suzuki Motor Corp. are the first automakers members to join the consortium. Elektrobit, Luxoft, and Xevo join as the first supplier-members, with many other companies already expressing interest to join, according to Ford’s announcement.

“At the end of the day, consumers are asking for their phone to work in their car, and they use a myriad of applications, so having a standard solution is crucial,” Sandy Lobenstein, VP of connected strategy and product planning at Toyota, said during the panel. The company plans to commercialize a telematics system using SDL around 2018.

Both Ford and Toyota will continue supporting CarPlay and Android Auto integration, however.

“For things like vehicle-to-vehicle communication or HD Maps or autonomous, embedded applications would work best,” Lobenstein said. “However, many apps work great through other platforms, so we see two routes here.”

An industry-wide adoption of the SDL would lift a significant barrier of entry for startups working on in-car technology. And even though the consortium is not intended to start “a war on Google and Apple,” as Ford’s Butler put it, it will certainly challenge the tech giants to keep up their current grip in the space. Game on.

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