Ford opens Sync AppLink to competitors

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, automakers act like tech companies, unveiling new software that will change how we interact with our cars. The goal is to create a single ecosystem for in-car applications and dominate the infotainment space.

Ford is opening its Sync AppLink platform to application developers at no cost by creating the Ford Developer Program. Ford becomes the first automaker in the world to create an open developer platform allowing anyone — from a small garage outfit to competing automakers — to program the AppLink interface and create apps and customized driving experiences for customers.

According to Wired, Ford’s intentions aren’t solely altruistic and a strategic element is at play here. The automaker’s goal is to dominate the emerging infotainment space by taking advantage of the success of Sync, much as Google does with Android in the smartphone sector. With this expanded footprint, Ford can then carve out a coveted position for AppLink as the de facto industry standard.

More than 4,000 developers have already mregistered for access to the Ford Developer Program. The company has also partnered with Michigan-based app developer JacAPPS to provide assistance to outside developers who may have a hot idea but don’t have the staff or technical ability to execute it.

The advantage for consumers is obvious: Instead of limiting AppLink innovations to Ford engineers, the company can now curate and license the best innovations made by outside developers, while other automakers and third-party suppliers can create their own apps based on the software. Developers benefit by working with one platform and software development kit instead of needing to learn and implement multiple platforms.

It is worth noting that Ford’s ambitions for AppLink are global. When the platform launches later this year in Europe and Asia, a system will already be in place to quickly add more apps relevant to those markets, which can be created by local developers.

The only obstacle to AppLink’s potential domination is the fact that other automakers have already invested heaps of time and money developing their own proprietary platforms. Wired reports that just like major tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft, automakers “want to control and maintain their own ecosystems.”

Speaking anonymously, a General Motors executive told Wired that adopting AppLink would be risky because of the resulting loss of control. “Will we get the latest updates or will we have to wait until Ford is willing to share?” he asked.