In today’s technology universe that includes smartphones, tablets, and all kinds of other mobile devices, apps are arguably the equivalent of plasma. And in a somewhat paradoxical fashion, the automobile will soon become a device that also runs apps — perhaps making it the ultimate, and definitely the biggest, mobile device, thanks to GM’s efforts to bring apps to the infotainment systems of its vehicles. Roughly six months after announcing its developer-focused app efforts, the automaker has provided some details and statistics about how its app-focused endeavors are progressing.
General Motors is actually offering two distinct and separate ways for developers to build apps. The first involves interacting remotely with the vehicle using OnStar, while the second makes use of in-vehicle information and incorporates the app into the infotainment system.
The remote OnStar method, currently available for developer use in a simulated fashion, can be accessed thorough a smartphone, tablet, or computer, while the in-vehicle method allows developers to use simulated vehicle information, such as location data or vehicle diagnostics, to create apps that would be incorporated into the vehicles’ infotainment systems while being available to download through a GM AppShop that is currently under development.
The beauty of built-in applications is their ability to personalize the experience and communicate directly with the vehicle — something that, outside of the tools available in the Driver Information Center (DIC), hasn’t been available to drivers.
The apps that run on a vehicle’s infotainment system would be obtainable via the upcoming GM AppShop, which itself will be built into the infotainment system. And since the system is modifiable and customizable, drivers will be able to modify it over time as their needs change and new apps become available.
“We have developed and designed connected vehicles and with that connectivity there’s tremendous range of what can be done with them,” said GM director, developer ecosystems, Global Connected Consumer Nick Pudar. “There will probably be in-vehicle apps that are popular for everybody, but there will also be a range of apps useful to very targeted segments.”
But with the price of a smartphone being almost free to $200, and that of a GM vehicle with an app-capable infotainment system being roughly $20,000 and higher, some developers might be concerned that their apps wouldn’t be exposed to as large a user base when compared to the smartphone market. GM acknowledges this, saying that the number of connected vehicles will never be as large as the smartphone population. However, today’s vehicle app developers are early players in an uncluttered marketplace, offering a way to stand out and get noticed.
“It can be very difficult for a new app developer to get noticed or become relevant,” said Pudar. “Since our marketplace will be carefully curated for apps that are meaningful and appropriate for the driving experience, each available app will have much greater visibility. Couple that with the fact that on average we spend about 90 minutes a day in our vehicles, and you have a captive audience.”
While the practicality of in-vehicle apps might be somewhat amorphous, the possibilities that we’ve heard about or seen so far are very intriguing. For instance: an idea from a group of developers involves a built-in app with two buttons — one reading Personal and the other Business. A driver could choose the appropriate button when starting a trip, with the Business button being capable of tracking mileage and fuel consumption for work-related trips that could be used for expenses or tax reporting.
“Since our future system is embedded, developers can create apps that use vehicle information. This will create a whole new category of ‘car apps’ we’ve never seen before,” said Pudar. “In addition, an embedded system is the only way to enable apps that can interact with the vehicle remotely. The range of embedded connectivity can be expansive.”
Another idea surrounds teens waiting to get their drivers’ licenses. A “Learn to Drive” app would allow the vehicle to act as a virtual driving instructor, providing real-time instructions on driving maneuvers, offering speed limit alerts and keeping track of driving statistics such as hours driven, maneuvers completed and nighttime hours driven in compliance with a state’s driver training program.
Of course, these are just two examples of apps that would satisfy a certain niche, but they nonetheless demonstrate what’s possible, as many other apps are currently under development within the GM Developer Portal to serve a broad range of interests. According to GM, “app ideas are being developed at a steady rate”, and the apps “could appear in a General Motors vehicle someday”.
Nearly 2,300 developers have registered in the portal since January, thereby choosing to engage in a test environment with either GM’s Remote or in-vehicle application program interface (API).
Those interested in learning more about The General’s Development efforts can go to the GM Developer portal.