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Ford pops bonnet on open dashboard APIs

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CES 2013 Phone app developers who fancy expanding onto car dashboards can now create programs for Ford cars, utilising the voice control and connectivity built into the vehicle through open software interfaces (APIs).

Those APIs are SYNC and AppLink, which provide access to the dashboard display and buttons, and voice control, respectively. Handsets can communicate with the vehicle over wireless Bluetooth or Apple's iPod Accessory Protocol via USB. Ford also insists that it must approve any application that wants to integrate with one of its cars before the software is submitted to the respective mobile app stores.

The interfaces are provided for Android and iOS, but the likes of Angry Birds won't be welcomed. In fact no games will be allowed as Ford points out that such distractions are suitable only for passengers who can use their own phones. These APIs are for vehicle drivers, and applications will therefore be limited to those appropriate to someone whose primary focus is on the road.

Announced examples include a Wall Street Journal app, which reads out the news headlines, and Kaliki, which reads out non-news from TV Guide and celeb rag OK! Then there are apps from Amazon for playing back one's music from the cloud, and streamed radio stations such as Rhapsody.

Perhaps more innovative is Glympse, which lets people know how late you're going to be, and BeCouply for instant date suggestions to throw at the chick while in your hot convertible.

All those were developed with Ford but serve as examples of what anyone can do now that the developers' programme is open. Signing up is free, and Ford promises lots of example code and decent support, but that will likely depend on how compelling it feels your app is.

Open APIs are to be welcomed, but making them Ford-only is a pain. Other manufacturers are unlikely to license the tech so once the novelty has worn off developers will be porting apps to each manufacturer's platform, with the technology always several steps behind the smart phones.

The answer is to echo the phone's screen onto the dashboard display, using VNC or similar as Tata is doing with Jaguar and Land Rover, but that takes power away from the car manufacturer and hands it to phone maker so don't expect it be widely embraced any time soon. ®

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