Download To Your Car, Top Auto App Stores

August 10, 2010

A new breed of software application store is hitting the Internet, but instead of accessing apps through your smartphone you’ll access these online stores and download directly to your car. The types of apps coming to your ride will be a step beyond maps for your in-dash GPS. Nearly every auto manufacturer is planning a dedicated app store for its own connected cars brining the tools straight to your dashboard designed to make driving safer, greener and more entertaining. Here’s a look at a few of the online app stores being developed for your car.

You’ve downloaded apps from iTunes, the app store for your iPhone. BlackBerry owners have their own app store in BlackBerry App World.  App stores have proven to be lucrative for the smartphone industry and a convenience to their owners everywhere. But many auto manufacturers see app stores as the next frontier for your connected car.

Audi App Store

Ever since talk of another all-electric Audi A2 City Car has resurfaced, the German manufacturer has outlined plans for a dedicated Audi app store. Audi marketing and sales chief, Peter Schwarzenbauer told the Financial Times recently that the upcoming Audi app store will let drivers download software to:

“…customize their car’s interior, driving style as well as add features.”

It’ll be interesting to see exactly what Mr. Schwarzenbauer means when he says downloaded software would customize your car’s interior, but if anyone can pull it off it’d be Audi.

We got an advanced look at the in-dash capabilities of the new Audi A8, Google Earth System. Its 3G (soon to be 4G) digital network connection will keep owners up to date with Google Earth and any software upgrades it needs. But as it develops new ways to use Audi’s in-dash computing power – you can see why an app store is a no brainer.

BMW ConnectedDrive

Your new Beemer will be connected with expanded BMW ConnectedDrive features. BMW has been perfecting its version of the complete connected automotive package, with OnStar-like driver assistance and GPS capabilities. But new iterations of BMW’s own ConnectedDrive service will go even further with downloadable apps directly from BMW to your dashboard. New apps will include infotainment and support for your existing social media accounts.

Going on a road trip in your future? ConnectedDrive even plans to make a library of downloadable audio books available to its customers.

BMW has already demonstrated its app store at a recent Frankfurt auto show and promises to keep its customers on the front lines of connected car technology with future apps. The manufacturer plans on developing new apps for entertainment, safety and comfort while keeping drivers connected to social media, email and of course the telephone.

Ford AppLink

Ford’s version of the in-car app store is AppLink, designed specially for Ford Sync. Sync has a rich pedigree in connected technology, developed in partnership with Microsoft. Sync is now available in almost every car Ford makes and has earned a reputation for using Bluetooth to connect drivers with data stored on their smartphone.

Sync has been very good at letting drivers integrate their smartphone into the car by giving drivers access to their smartphone’s media and applications behind the wheel. With AppLink, Ford seeks to continue this strategy with your smartphone as the essential personal digital interface.

So, Ford won’t make you download equivalent apps that you may already have on your smartphone. Instead, it wants its applications to let you control your favorite smartphone apps with your vehicle’s existing controls. Ford and Microsoft’s strategy with Sync seems to be letting the car become the human-machine-interface (HMI) between you and your smartphone while you drive.

In order to mitigate driver distraction, these in-car smartphone controls could be buttons built in your steering wheel or use voice activated commands issued from your Bluetooth headset or a microphone built into the car.

Ford is already rolling out AppLink to integrate directly with Android and BlackBerry first, Apple fans might have to wait for full iPhone integration.

Hughes Telematics

You may not have heard of Hughes, but it’s the name behind communications technology built into Chrysler and Mercedenes-Benz vehicles. Hughes has long been a leader in the in-car app store vision. The in-car communications company has been working on app stores of its own to help in-dash head units integrate with your smartphone. Using software from Hughes your smartphone can run an app that checks the status of your car through the Internet. You’ll be able to check your gas tank, tire pressure, lock the doors or start your car remotely using from your smartphone.

The same electronics can be used to stop thieves by broadcasting your car’s location if it’s ever stolen. Blind-spot detection cameras can snap pictures of anyone breaking into your car. Those pics can then be relayed to your smartphone immediately for quick identification.

What’s Your Digital Interface?

Although the rush is on to provide app stores for your car’s electronics, the shelves are mostly bare for now. Just like the smartphone app store rush a few years ago, the foundation is being laid for what most manufacturers hope will be a fertile future market for in-car apps.

Not so long ago cell phones transformed into powerful pocket-sized computers with their own keyboards and operating systems. Today many of us rely on our contacts, email, social web technology and entertainment media library all accessed through our smartphones.

Connected car app stores come with a unique set of challenges. Nobody wants to re-buy their favorite smartphone apps for the dashboard of their car. Nor does anyone want to be stuck with DRM protected media licensed for other devices that won’t play-back in the car.

But issues of software and media licensing are just the start of a long discussion about the state human-machine interface (HMI) in the digital realm. The smartphone is quickly becoming the gold-standard in personal information technology and computing. Will the car become an extension of your smartphone as seems to be the plan behind Ford Sync? Or is it just another object with which to interface through the Internet as many other systems like OnStar and BMW are moving toward.

How should the car tap into your true human-digital interface?

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