Toyota has announced that it's officially adopting SmartDeviceLink (SDL) for its next-generation in-car electronics, six-odd months since first announcing it was taking a look the platform. SmartDeviceLink is the open-source offshoot of Ford's AppLink, one of the first broadly deployed platforms for connecting smartphones to a cars; developers can use it to interface directly with a vehicle's displays and controls from a connected (and automaker-approved) phone app. In addition to Toyota's news, Ford has announced today that a number of other automakers are officially considering SmartDeviceLink, including PSA Peugeot Citroën, Honda, Mazda, and Subaru.
In many ways, AppLink and SmartDeviceLink go head-to-head with CarPlay and Android Auto, all of which are designed to bring phone apps and functionality to the dashboard. But while Ford is finally embracing CarPlay and Android Auto on even footing with AppLink, Toyota is still showing little interest in ceding control of the dashboard to Apple and Google. In fact, Toyota specifically notes SmartDeviceLink's UI flexibility in matching automakers' tastes, which neither CarPlay nor Android Auto do. "With SDL, automakers can offer smartphone apps which match each company's in-car system characteristics and interface. This enables customers to use apps they want more safely and comfortably," the company says in a statement.
But slow, confusing user interfaces are commonly cited as top complaints in modern cars, which raises the question of whether automakers should be expending resources working on them at all — particularly when CarPlay and Android Auto offer familiar interfaces borrowed from the most popular smartphone platforms on the market. Though Ford counts over 5 million AppLink-enabled cars on the road — and every additional automaker, like Toyota, will give developers a larger base to target — the platform only has a handful of compatible apps.
The jury is out on whether car buyers (and car sharers) will eventually come to demand CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, but at least for the moment, Toyota is betting they won't.