PLANT

GM gives developers a sandbox with wheels

Automaker to boost vehicle tech-appeal by opening application framework to software developers.


LAS VEGAS—General Motors (GM) has introduced a new flexible application framework that allows drivers to add apps and features to their vehicles after initial purchase, boosting in-car infotainment systems over time.

The system, introduced at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, enables new sets of vehicle application programming interfaces, or APIs, for developers so they can interact with and build upon the infotainment systems in GM vehicles.

GM will offer developers a software development kit, or SDK, through an online portal, allowing developers to work with the automaker in a secure and controlled environment to design, test and deliver customizable and integrated automotive apps.

The implementation of these apps is incorporated into new infotainment systems—which will debut in select 2014 model year vehicles—that will change how in-vehicle apps are offered. The system’s framework includes a catalog that will allow vehicle owners to choose from a menu of available applications specifically designed for the in-vehicle experience.

GM demonstrated applications from four potential partners for the new app catalog:  iHeartRadio,TuneInSlacker and The Weather Channel. The catalog, which is not yet available on GM vehicles, is expected to grow as GM readies the launch the new framework.

In addition, the framework will allow developers to create a new category of vehicle apps.

“There will be a category of apps that will be unique to our cars and very different from what people use today on their smartphones or tablets,” said GM Chief Infotainment Officer Phil Abram.  “It’s not just taking phone apps and making them function in a car, which most car companies do in some form now.  Instead, GM may approve applications that stem from vehicle ownership.  For example, customers can choose to download applications that assist them in driving more safely or in a more fuel efficient manner, possibly decreasing the costs of vehicle ownership.”

Once these apps are created and have been approved by GM, future owners of certain GM models will be able to download them directly to the vehicle through the app catalog.

“GM customers will soon be able to personalize and update the apps in their vehicles,” said Abram.

The automaker has offered only select developers access to remote APIs that interact with the vehicle via the OnStar system. The new SDK will expand the environment so developers can work with the actual vehicle through the infotainment system. GM is using the HTML5 Java Script framework in its SDK as well.

“We are providing developers a pathway to develop for a new audience in a new setting, resulting in new customers,” said Abram. “GM intends to cultivate a relationship with these developers to explore new apps that will benefit the overall driving experience. This is part of GM’s commitment to bring customer-centric technology to our vehicles and establish a community where developers can join in exploring what’s possible with in-vehicle apps.”

The online developer portal includes a forum where developers can ask questions of a technical specialist.  The portal also will host a blog for developers to keep them informed on the latest news and information. GM will use the input and feedback from the developer community to continuously improve the app framework.