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Should I be creating apps for car manufacturers?

There are several platforms available for creating apps for improving the driving experience. Expert Matthew David discusses why it may be easier than you think.

Today you will spend 101 minutes in the car. What will you do? Flick through the CDs and brush over a few FM channels?...

No, of course, you won't. You will connect your phone to the car radio and choose an app to provide entertainment for the next hour and a half.

The car radio is morphing into a full-fledged entertainment system complete with touch display and apps. The problem: There are a lot of platforms competing for your development skills. First, there are the platforms involved in creating apps:

  • Google's Android Auto: As you would expect, Android Auto is a modified version of Android for the car. Hugely popular due to the number of Android phones and ease of connecting.
  • Apple's CarPlay: CarPlay requires an iOS device to connect with and is very familiar with the iPhone crowd.
  • Ford SYNC: Ford open sourced AppLink (now named SmartDeviceLink), the foundation of Ford SYNC, and have partnered with Toyota to compete with Google and Apple.
  • BlackBerry QNX: This is currently used by many manufacturers.

The second challenge you have with creating apps is that each manufacturer is known for swapping in and out different platforms. If we look at the top companies selling cars we have the following challenges:

  • GM: Older GM cars with OnStar use QNX as the operating system for creating apps.
  • GM: New GM cars now use Android Auto.
  • Ford: Ford vehicles running SYNC 2.0 use a Microsoft solution, whereas Ford SYNC 3.0 is on 2016 and later cars.

The final challenge is a limited audience. Today, not every car comes with an app-driven ecosystem to build solutions. Indeed, if your vehicle is more than three years old, it is more likely your car does not have a touchscreen infotainment system.

So, why bother creating apps for cars? The opportunity is not today, but tomorrow. Remember, we spend 101 minutes per day in a car. The era of the self-driving car is starting and will be mainstream in five years. For an industry that is 100 years old, we are experiencing an almost overnight change in behavior behind the wheel. With a self-driving car, you can watch a movie, buy clothes or text a friend in complete safety. The 101 minutes in a car is captive to the entertainment system and the passenger. If you want to see how this can look in the future, all you need to do is get into a taxi and be forced to watch TV in the cab.

If you know how to develop for the web, iOS or Android, then you are halfway to creating apps for the auto platforms listed above. Why not develop a version of your app specifically for a driving experience and open a new way to entertain your audience?

Next Steps

Guide to mobile app development

Platform options for mobile app development

Easing challenges with mobile app frameworks

This was last published in April 2017

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