Ford Motor Corp: Calling All App Developers

Ford engineers explain how to write an app for Ford's SYNC system

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Five years ago, at the Consumer Electronics Show, two IEEE Spectrum editors hopped into a Ford Focus for a live demo of the company’s new Sync driver-assistance system. This year, Ford opened up Sync to third-party programmers by releasing a developer’s kit, and we jumped into a new Ford Escape to see a demo of it. (Senior Associate Editor Steven Cherry was surprised and pleased, but back at the office, car maven and fellow Spectrum editor Willie Jones’s reaction was, “It’s about time.”)

Cherry also discussed the developer’s kit and the company’s other new technologies in a podcast interview with Ford senior executive and star researcher James Buczkowski.

Steven Cherry: Hi, I’m Steven Cherry. I’m with Kevin Burdette. He’s with the Sync AppLink development team. And we’re standing in front of what car here, Kevin?

Kevin Burdette: This is a 2013 Ford Escape. Sync is our connected solution and what we’ve done is—a piece of this connected solution called AppLink enables an app to fully integrate with the car.

What I’m showing here is an app of a radio station that I listen to in Detroit, 101 WRIF. So the app is loaded. I have it running on the phone. It’s going to start. So, you see that we require a lock screen. So the lock screen immediately comes up when the app is loaded. You see that they are running the display, WRIF, Soundgarden. And they’ve registered a whole bunch of commands. One of the added features to using their app, instead of just listening to it over FM, is one, I can be listening to it in Vegas, and two, they give you added content. The app has the ability to register for any of the numbers, for forward, seek forward, seek back, the okay button, any of the arrows. So they really do have huge flexibility as far as what they want to do.

Steven Cherry: And yet with every developer using the same library, the basic set of commands is going to be similar.

Kevin Burdette: Yes, in general. A lot of the audio apps will register the same commands.

Steven Cherry: So what would be another example of a cool app that will suddenly be available to me in my car?

Kevin Burdette: As part of the beta program, Glympse, which if you don’t know what it is, it actually, you can send a “Glympse” to your friend, and they can actually see your GPS location.

Steven Cherry: So that’s a little bit like sending a text message without having to type out a text message, or even speak a text message?

Kevin Burdette: Correct. It just sends GPS data. And the nice thing about Glympse too is if your friend does not have Glympse installed in their phone, it’ll actually pop open a browser and show the map. So if you’re planning to meet them for lunch, and you’re running late, send them a Glympse and they know exactly where you are—probably a good idea of how much longer it’s going to take to show up late.

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