Should there be an app for that?

  • 24-Jan-2011 09:07 EST

The 2011 Fiesta will be the first Ford to receive Sync AppLink capability, applying voice control to smartphone apps including Pandora Internet radio, Stitcher smart radio, and OpenBeak, a Twitter client.

The migration of consumer interest from basic mobile phones to smartphones is having a dramatic impact on automotive infotainment systems, as many OEMs and their suppliers scramble to develop connectivity solutions to keep up. This trend was on display in full force at the Consumer Electronics Association’s 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. The smartphone is poised to have an even greater influence on future car systems, according to the market research firm iSuppli Corp.

Apple’s iPhone changed the smartphone from a communication-focused device to an application-centric, multipurpose mobile platform that can span many industries,” said Egil Juliussen, Principal Analyst and Fellow for Automotive Research at iSuppli.

The mobile phone’s influence on automotive systems development started with hands-free application interfaces to car head units (radios) through Bluetooth. The smartphone has become a leading source of digital car audio systems and has disrupted the in-vehicle navigation system business model. The next frontier looks to be app-type functionality migration from smartphones to cars.

At CES, there were many OEM examples of this app migration, most notably from Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., and Mini USA.

Ford’s industry-first solution gives Sync users hands-free voice control of some smartphone apps. The free download gives 2011 Fiesta owners access to Pandora Internet radio, Stitcher news radio, and OpenBeak social networking, with other “enabled” apps to follow.

Toyota’s new Entune multimedia system leverages a customer’s mobile phone for Microsoft Bing navigation points of interest, OpenTable restaurant reservations,, Pandora, and iheartradio local stations.

Mini’s first partnership to develop third-party apps for its Connected solution is with Pandora on 2011 vehicles using existing vehicle controls.

With many more third-party apps inevitably coming to vehicles, minimizing driver distraction must be a top priority. Integrating them via hands-free voice-recognition technology and simple-to-use steering wheel controls are two commendable control routes the industry has implemented. More work must be done in analyzing driver load, improving human-machine interfaces, and engineering better voice-recognition solutions that minimize distraction.

OEM decision makers must also focus on solutions that provide the most consumer value. To reiterate what Thilo Koslowski, Research Vice President, Gartner Inc., said at Telematics Updates’ Consumer Telematics Seminar just before CES, rather than thinking about it from the perspective that “There’s an app for that,” the industry must ask “Should there be an app for that?”

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