Ford announced that it would open-source its AppLink connected car platform at CES two years ago; at the time, it seemed unlikely that any global automakers would bite, considering the industry's persistent heel-digging on differentiation in the dashboard. But the landscape has changed: Android Auto is in production cars, CarPlay is rolling out, and now, Toyota has announced that it is "exploring" the use of SmartDeviceLink — AppLink's open-source cousin — in future models.
Can it stay relevant against Google and Apple?
AppLink and SmartDeviceLink give mobile app developers a platform for interacting with the car, the driver, and the dashboard, so that phone apps can be safely used on the road using the car's controls. The technology has the advantage of being already rolled out — Ford says it has over 5 million AppLink-enabled cars on the road already — which means Toyota doesn't need to fight as big of an uphill battle to bring developers on board as it would with a homegrown platform. And inasmuch as automakers still want their dashboards to look customized and branded, SmartDeviceLink allows them to do that; Android Auto and CarPlay do not.
Still, Apple and Google are well positioned to win this war in the long term. Ford's AppLink catalog only shows a few dozen apps in total spread across iOS and Android — but Julius Marchwicki, product manager for Ford's connected services, believes SmartDeviceLink's role is complementary, not competitive. "AppLink, CarPlay and Android Auto all offer unique ways for customers to connect and control their smartphones, and that's a good thing," he says.