Tired of smartphones and tablets? Why not make apps for cars?

Cars these days are an entirely different breed to the ones that we all grew up with. They’ve got smarter, with high efficiency engines, traction control, engine management chips and stability control programmes. They’re full of sensors and internal gadgets to make the car safer and your ride more enjoyable. The more advanced models now have automatic braking if they sense an obstacle in front of them and will even watch your eyes to see if you’re falling asleep and will jerk the the seatbelt if you’re looking like you’re heading for the land of nod.

In the centre console you now have GPS and reverse cameras and the media centres are getting more advanced every day.

The future of cars is looking to be ever more connected as well.

Right now there is a massive amount of research going into self-driving cars, with Google getting in on the action with a fleet of 12 Lexus’ who have managed more than 200,000 miles of accident free driving between them. Google think that they are nearly ready to start ferrying employees to and from work as a work taxi service. We at Kumulos (Backend as a Service) don’t know whether we’d be entirely sure about trusting a car that drives itself, but 200,000 miles of no accidents is certainly comforting.

There’s also a lot of research being put into inter car connectivity, with the aim of allowing all cars within a certain radius of each other to know where the other cars are, what speed they’re doing, what direction they’re going in and their current condition of repair. The idea being that if all the cars know where every other car around them is and what it’s doing and thinking, any problems or potential accidents can be avoided by the cars working together like a flock of birds to navigate around hazards and dangerous situations in ways that a human couldn’t.

And of course, all of this means that bigger and better computing systems are being put into cars every day, and what does that mean?

Why, apps in your car of course.

It seems like a natural progression when you think about it. We’ve had increasing mobile integration into cars for years, and there are some manufacturers that are looking to turn cars into mobile 4G hotspots.

At the moment there are two manufacturers who have confirmed solid plans to have apps in their cars.

Ford is going for a more integrated approach; they’re banking on the fact that whether in the car or out the drivers will have their smartphones with them and so are designing a system where the phone is the one actually running the apps but they show up on the dashboard screen. GM on the other hand, are creating a proprietary system where apps can run straight from the car’s own computer and a smartphone isn’t required.

Both systems have their advantages, GM’s means that you don’t need to worry about having your phone on you (a rarer occurrence) or more likely, worry about your phone’s battery dying on you as you try to navigate somewhere. Ford’s on the other hand, allows the driver access to apps they’re already using and you don’t need another data plan or to change anything really, other than make sure that the app is designed to work with the car’s system.

In this instance, it seems like Ford who are on the right track.

They’re making a system that is betting on developers wanting to create apps that’ll work in cars but also outside of the car environment. They’re essentially opening up a whole new app playground and saying “Go, have fun and see what you can do.” to the development community. GM on the other hand, may be digging themselves into a hole. After all, on average we upgrade our smartphones every year or two, but can we say the same for our cars?

In a study done in America it was found that the average car on the road is eleven years old. Eleven years! The original iPhone hadn’t even been conceived of 11 years ago. GM face a problem where in a few years they’ll have a drastically outdated system running ancient apps that no one has a use for whilst Ford’s system, once the system is in place, just need to make sure it’s up-to-date and they have essentially got apps for good in their cars.

Whatever the case, developers are already wanting into these programs, with Ford alone saying they’ve had more than a thousand developers sign up to access the SDK since it was announced last week. Of course the obvious apps such as radio alternatives (Pandora, Spotify etc) have already been grabbed in the closed beta, and turn by turn navigation is something that’s likely to get done to death, but the world of cars is a totally different landscape to pure smartphones.

As a developer, you have a whole new set of parameters and problems that could use fixing with an app or two. And with that in mind, there is no better time than now to get in on this new development opportunity. Ford, for one, is counting on developers creating apps for their cars that they and their tech team haven’t even dreamed of yet. And as with any new field in technology, the opportunities for the best ideas are going to disappear quite quickly, so time is of the essence.