At the Consumer Electronics Show this year in Las Vegas, General Motors (GM) announced plans to open up a software development kit (SDK) for developers to build apps for some of its 2014 cars. The idea is to offer a variety of apps that can be updated or swapped out as user preferences change, just as users currently do with mobile device apps.
Drivers will soon have the ability to download new apps to their vehicle and customize the apps they want. This will allow them to improve their infotainment systems over time.
GM suggests the new app model enhances a car’s value because the car’s infotainment device is not restricted to the programs that come with the car. The suite of apps can now be expanded as drivers’ (and passengers’) preferences change and new apps are introduced. Though details are sparse, they are available at an online portal. A press release describes the development platform as using HTML5 Java Script framework
The developer essentially will gain access to two sets of information: in-vehicle APIs and remote APIs. In-vehicle APIs include general information about the car such as its position, its VIN number, its current location, navigation tools, communication tools, speech recognition, and audio and video controls. Remote APIs include three kinds: vehicle data, subscriber data, and vehicle commands. Vehicle data describe vehicles under that subscription, including telemetry data. Subscriber data detail the subscriber(s) to OnStar under that account. Vehicle commands include code to lock or unlock a car, remotely start it or develop a route to a destination.
While demo apps by potential developers are quite like mobile apps (weather, radio stations, etc.) GM expects a new breed of apps in the coming year. GM chief infotainment officer, Phil Abram, explained, “It’s not just taking phone apps and making them functional in a car, which most car companies do in some form now. Instead, GM may approve applications that stem from vehicle ownership. For example, customers can choose to download applications that assist them in driving more safely or in a more fuel efficient manner, possibly decreasing the costs of vehicle ownership.”
Apps demoed at CES parallel mobile apps.
Apps will be submitted for approval before being made available to car owners via a catalog of apps, basically an app store. Videos from GM suggest the main hurdle for approval is safety. The apps can include detailed interfaces for use while the car is stopped, but once the car is in motion, apps are expected to provide easy-to-read and easy-to-use controls either via touch or voice. GM wants to limit distracted driving.
I queried Junior Barrett, GM Infotainment Strategy and Alliance manager, about the developer program.
Directions Magazine (DM): From a developer standpoint, what are the biggest differences between developing for a mobile device versus a car?
DM: It sounds like most of the approval process for apps revolves around safety and minimizing distracted driving. Are there guidelines for developers to ensure they are putting together an app and a user interface that meet these requirements?
JB: Yes, the HMI [Human Machine Interface] and safety guidelines can be found in the SDK which is on the developer portal at http://developer.gm.com.
DM: Will developers have access to a subscriber’s history to help learn about driving patters, preferences and the like to build those apps that, say, offer the best route to minimize traffic, but also hit that minor league ball park you always wanted to visit?
JB: At this time due to privacy concerns we are not allowing anyone to access a person’s historical driving patterns; the focus for now is all the other APIs that can bring value such as GPS, fuel sensors, audio playback functionality, among a variety of others.
DM: Will developers be able to tap into a subscriber’s other online presences (i.e. Facebook, with permission of course) to help build those custom experiences like the one mentioned above?
JB: We are investigating features like this, but we obviously would not want to implement anything in a vehicle which would affect driver safety or cause a distraction.
DM: What is the business model for apps? Is it 70/30, like Apple?
JB: We cannot comment on this right now as we are still working through the details. Once we have this available we will make it public on our website http://developer.gm.com.
Clearly, GM is just at the starting line of working with software developers. It will be interesting to see if any geospatial or location-based apps beyond weather and basic routing begin to appear in the coming months and years.