Computers have revolutionized cars and how they work. Computer controlled fuel injection lets you get the most for your gas dollar. On-board diagnostic systems let you find out exactly what’s wrong with your car before it turns into a major problem. And now, your car is getting a computer for you to play with…and download apps for.
Ford, of course, has the Sync system, the Chevy Cruze can read you your Facebook feed in some models, and so on, but these have gone from toys to a common high end feature surprisingly rapidly. And the next frontier are applications, with Ford going all in and Mercedes Benz and Kia right behind them.
However, don’t expect to be playing “Angry Birds” on your car’s computer screen while you’re stuck in traffic; safety is first and foremost in the minds of car manufacturers and app developers alike. That doesn’t mean, however, that we won’t see some pretty interesting and unusual applications exclusively for your car.
Does this mean your car is basically going to be a big, expensive (well, more expensive), iPhone? Not really. Although some car system boast Internet connectivity and can serve as a WiFi hotspot, if you’re willing to pay the premium for extras like that, your car will be first and foremost a car, and the apps you’ll be able to download will be built around driving and helping you get where you’re going.
For example, the most popular app right now is a coupon app that uses your GPS signal to determine where you are, what stores are closest to you, and what deals they’re offering. If you tap the coupon that appears on your screen, it’ll give you turn by turn directions to get to the store and collect on that coupon.
The key is to avoid distracted driving. As we’ve noted before, and more than once, driving while chatting on your cell phone is the equivalent of having two beers and climbing behind the wheel and driving while texting is even worse. As the car manufacturers of the world, with a few possible exceptions, have no interest in killing their future loyal customers, or getting sued, they’re working with applications developers carefully to ensure that it’s something you can do while you drive.
As a result, the process is as stringent as it gets. Ford expects to have the most applications of any car company available, with 50 to 75 apps by the end of the year. Compare this to, say, the half a million applications available for the iPhone or the nearly 350,000 apps available for Android. They’ll also be of a more limited scope. Expect apps to help you get where you’re going, customize your radio broadcast or control your iPod, track your gas and power usage, and find gas stations and restrooms, not games and “sing like T-Pain” toys.
Still, it opens up a new and possibly incredibly useful area to make cars more efficient and driving safer and more effective. We just hope none of the apps, er, sound like T-Pain.