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Ford's SYNC Tools Target Smartphone Integration

At the CTIA trade show in San Francisco, Ford debuted a set of developer tools that can be used to integrate smartphone applications into its SYNC dashboard technology.

Claiming that its ideas will lead to improved safety, Ford on Friday announced a software developer kit (SDK) and application programming interfaces (APIs) for its SYNC dashboard.

The SDK and APIs will enable developers to modify existing smartphone applications to work in a hands-free manner with Ford SYNC. The company isn't asking developers to write thousands of applications for SYNC, but it believes there is value in having some types of services and information pushed to the dashboard.

"More and more drivers will find a way to use their devices and their apps while in the car," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of Global Product Development. "They can do it unsafely, or they can do it through safer voice-activated solutions such as Ford SYNC – keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."

The Ford SYNC AppLink API will eventually let end users sync applications from their smartphone to their car and empower them with voice recognition controls through SYNC.

Some of the categories Ford believes would be valuable include:

  • Personalized entertainment such as Pandora Internet radio
  • Personalized information and news such as Stitcher smart radio or Orangatame’s OpenBeak
  • Location-based services including navigation, traffic and business searches
  • Notifications and alerts leveraging SYNC’s ability to mash up vehicle information, GPS locations and more, all to provide the driver with customized information and guidance
  • Financial apps that, for example, provide alerts such as stock price drops or overdrafts and, in the future, drive-by payments
  • Scheduling and planning apps that could include notifications of flight status, for instance, in the event flights are delayed or rescheduled
Ford said that applications can be enabled with SYNC, but still distributed through normal application stores, such as the Android Market and iPhone App Store. Ford didn't indicate if SYNC-enabled apps would carry a price premium over non-SYNC apps that do the same thing.

In addition to the SDK and API, Ford also announced that it is adopting more Bluetooth technology in its cars. It has adopted the Message Access Profile (MAP) Bluetooth technology, which will make it possible for Ford vehicles to read incoming text messages to drivers. This standard is compatible with a wide variety of smartphones, and Ford thinks it can help prevent distracted driving.

"Our goal is to give customers a driving experience where listening to a text message is no different than listening to a news announcer on the car radio," said Jim Buczkowski, director of Ford Global Electrical and Electronics Systems Engineering. "Ford SYNC provides a better answer to picking up the phone and taking your eyes off the road to read messages."

After the messages are read to the driver, the driver can take a number of actions. One is to dictate a reply or choose one of 15 preset responses (I’ll call you back in a few minutes; I’m on my way; I’m outside; OK; Thanks; I just left, I’ll be there soon; I’m running a few minutes late; I’ll call you when I get there; Yes; Stuck in traffic; Can you give me a call?; I’m ahead of schedule, so I’ll be there early; Call me later; No; LOL).

Federal and state governments, as well as the wireless industry at large, are all starting to take safe use of wireless phones in cars more seriously. A number of states ban the use of handsets while driving, or require handsfree set-ups. As texting while driving is widely cited as one of the most dangerous activities drivers can undertake, it is good to see Ford making it a priority to add this technology to its vehicles.

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