Ford Turns Cars Into App Platforms

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The Ford Motor Company may be a hundred and seven years old, but when it comes to cool gadgetry, it’s impressively spry for a company of its age. For several years, it’s poured effort into its Sync and MyFord Touch ecosystem, which puts a ton of entertainment- and information-related features into the dashboards of Fords and Lincolns, provides connectivity with phones, and lets you control the whole deal with your voice. It’s some of the most serious consumer electronics from any auto company, and the pricetags are surprisingly sane. (See the video above for a demo of MyFord Touch.)

At a keynote at the CTIA Enterprise and Apps show in San Francisco this morning, Ford VP Derrick Kuzak talked about the company’s Sync SDK, which will let Android and BlackBerry developers integrate their apps with Ford’s in-car systems. Three programs–Pandora, Stitcher (spoken-word audio), and OpenBeak (Twitter)–already showcase what’s possible by leveraging Sync’s display, voice commands, and more. (You can even program your car-radio buttons to pull up your custom Pandora stations.)

Ford says that it’s received over 1,000 applications from developers, but that it’s going to be very careful about the approval process: It wants the SDK to make driving safer, not riskier. (When you listen to Pandora via Sync, the interface on your phone gets locked out so you’re not tempted to futz with it.)

I love the idea of Pandora and Stitcher replacing FM and AM radio, and the demo I saw of Pandora looked slick. I confess that I don’t quite understand the appeal of OpenBeak, though: Most of the fun of Twitter is in skimming through massive quantities of tweets, many of which link to photos, videos, and articles. It’s impossible to replicate that experience on a car dashboard. (What you get are tweets read one at a time, via text-to-speech conversion that’s decent but not on a par with the best I’ve heard, such as the Amazon Kindle’s book-reading feature.) I guess that’s the point of third-party car apps, though: Folks with Sync will get to choose the ones that appeal to them, and ignore the ones that done.