Strange Appfellows: Ford and Toyota Form Open-Source Software Consortium

SYNC 3 and Amazon Echo

It has been four years since Ford cocked a few eyebrows in the tech community by opening up its AppLink software—the code that allows mainstream phone apps to play nice with the automaker’s Sync infotainment system—to the coding community. That move toward open source was made to generate more interest among app developers in building or adapting existing apps to work with AppLink, thus giving Ford customers more smartphone apps that are compatible with Sync. Now Ford is taking that same concept one step further by creating a consortium with rival Toyota that backs open-source app integration software for cars’ infotainment systems.

Named SmartDeviceLink, or SDL, the new (nonprofit) outfit birthed by Toyota and Ford hopes to engage the developer community further, while fostering a greater depth of experience for in-car-app users. The goal is to sign up more automakers and suppliers, with every one sharing the same app-to-infotainment software so that app developers can simplify their code, a potential boon for developer participation as well as functionality. SDL’s statement said: “Developers benefit because they can focus on creating the best experience for customers by integrating one linking solution for use by all participating automakers.” Fewer variations, the thinking goes, should reduce bugs or other software issues.


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The underlying technology is based on Ford’s open-source AppLink software, which Ford points out is already installed in 5 million vehicles and supports popular apps such as Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and AccuWeather. This should give SDL participants a head start in the push for shared app-linking code. So far SDL has caught the attention of Subaru parent company Fuji Heavy Industries, Mazda, the Peugeot Citroën (PSA) Group, Suzuki, and suppliers Elektrobit, Luxoft, and Xevo. All have signed on as SDL members, and the group promises that Harman, Panasonic, Pioneer, and QNX intend to join as well. Toyota says it will bring an infotainment setup to market around 2018 that will include the app-linking software.

By all appearances, SDL exists to help automakers adapt apps to their native infotainment systems, differing slightly from the total phone-to-car integration solutions Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which duplicate smartphone interfaces (and compatible apps) onto a car’s touchscreen.

2017 CES


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