It’s been said before that The Ford Motor Co. is trying to remake itself as the Apple Inc. of the auto industry. The company is making a big bet on technology with new touchscreen-based interfaces, a host of wireless connectivity options, voice-based commands and now the space of mobile apps.
Derrick Kuzak, group VP of global product development at Ford, gave a morning keynote hitting on these points today in front of a somewhat sparse crowd on the final day of the CTIA Enterprise & Apps show. He also made sure to ingratiate himself to the wireless industry and ask for it’s help on innovation, standardization, and new business ideas.
“We need your help. We need your big ideas,” he said. “These are exciting times in your industry and mine… We have a tremendous opportunity right now to set the standards that others will follow,” he continued. “Help us build a business model that will work for all of us.” While the latest slate of technology to make their way into Ford vehicles is more recent, Kuzak said “the process of convergence for vehicles began well before mobile devices.” Ford claims to be the first car company that explored hands-free and wireless connectivity. Sync, which is now running in 2.5 million cars, was Ford’s first major foray into this field back in 2007. The first version of the technology allowed drivers to connect their mobile devices to their car to place calls and complete other tasks via voice commands. A recently upgraded version of the technology, which uses voice-recognition technology from Nuance Communications Inc., can now recognize up to 10,000 voice commands and uses more flattened grammar to allow drivers to talk in more complete sentences. The goal is to make nearly every function in the car voice-activated. Sync also lets drivers take advantage of wireless data, new applications and personal media. When potential customers see a demonstration of the technology there is a threefold increase in interest, Kuzak said. Every new feature that Ford adds to its cars “is customer driven with the goal of adding convenience and value to the driving experience,” he said. “We share a common customer with the wireless industry… These are customers who own smart phones and Ford vehicles.” While Ford plans to continue developing new applications for the service that will made available for download, it’s also launching a new platform through the Sync API called AppLink. This feature gives users access to the apps already stored on their smart phones and allows them to control the apps via Sync and the MyFord Touch interface, which will be installed on at least 80% of all of Ford’s vehicles by 2015. “It’s important to note that this isn’t just a premium feature for our high end vehicles,” Kuzak said. On the app front, Ford has opened its API and is making a software development kit available to some developers for more applications at syncmyride.com/developer. The auto maker has already received more than 1,000 submissions for the SDK, Kuzak said. The initial app categories that Ford is targeting includes: personalized entertainment, personalized information and news, location based services, notifications and alerts, financial apps, and schedule and planning. But Kuzak and his team is thinking much bigger down the line in the next phase of app development. He envisions an app that would alert drivers to traffic, accidents and statistically more dangerous intersections or an app that would let drivers know where they can find available parking spots, for example. Pulling data from a few recent surveys, Kuzak said 36% of smart phone users are already using apps while commuting today. “American drivers spend nearly three hours a day in their cars” or the equivalent of 16.5 hours per week, he said. “The annual delay per driver in the United States is more than 47 hours per year.” Ford simply wants to make that time more safe, productive and enjoyable as possible, Kuzak concluded.