Ford's SYNC System to Enable "Cars as a Platform"?

Developers working on mashups may want to take note of a recent announcement by Ford that it intends to make SYNC, it's on-board vehicle system, accessible to developers next year. The general implication is that millions of vehicles could become platforms for all kinds of mashups and apps that integrate with various parts of the SYNC system, including its stereo and navigation modules.

The idea behind the "Mobile Apps Connectivity" concept is to provide an easy way of integrating applications that run on mobile devices with SYNC, thereby allowing drivers and passengers to control the apps using built-in elements of the SYNC system, such as voice controls, in-dash displays, and more. Given Ford's recent announcement to convert SYNC-enabled vehicles into WiFi hotspots, there is good potential for this hybrid SYNC-mobile app approach to deliver value-added tools and applications.

As Ford highlights in this blog post, the car manufacturer plans to utilize an App Store model for distribution of apps that work with SYNC:

Ford is joining millions of its customers in embracing the app marketplace. Studies show what was a nonexistent niche just three years ago is expected to blossom into a $4 billion industry by 2012. [...] Ford and SYNC will answer the consumer demand by offering the only connectivity Platform available for drivers to safely manage their mobile applications in the car using voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel.

Ford plans on making the SYNC API available to developers sometime in 2010, although several teams of students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn worked on some pilot applications using iPhone-based apps that were integrated with the SYNC system via bluetooth. The students were the first ever to sign Ford’s new SYNC Developers’ License, which allowed them to gain early access to the SYNC API currently in development.

[caption id="attachment_9895" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Ford Motor Company SYNC system reviewed by students and instructors. Photo by: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co. (12/21/09)"]Ford Motor Company SYNC system reviewed by students and instructors. Photo by: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co. (12/21/09)[/caption]

The SYNC API itself is likely to be device-independent, allowing drivers to use all kinds of mobile devices in a unified way. This is certainly an exciting new development, and we're looking forward to seeing how this plays out next year. And of course, we're hoping to see apps that improve the driving experience while at the same time making the roads safer.

Be sure to read the next Mobile article: Facebook iPhone SDK Adds Graph API and OAuth 2.0