Developers and the Auto Industry: A Difficult Courtship

The automotive industry is increasing its efforts to reach out to developers. Examples of this include the launch of Ford Applink at CES – a solution which enables mobile apps to be controlled via the car interface and GM Developer Portal, also launched at CES. Other examples include efforts to engage with the hackathon world by, for example BMW and Ford.

This is definitely very insightful on the part of the auto industry and is key to realizing the connected car. However, there still seems to be an enormous divide between how the auto industry operates and how the developer community works. The auto industry, naturally, must place safety and reliability firmly at the top of their list; in contrast, the developer community is much more comfortable with pushing something out which is partial (and often buggy), seeing the reaction and deciding whether they should put more effort into evolving it.

These two different schools of thought need to be reconciled in a manner that is agreeable to both parties – the constraints around access to key auto functionalities imposed by the auto vendors are the essential part of the solution: nothing will get into the car unless it meets their safety considerations. This paramount concern must be given due weight by developers and substandard, partially working apps will not survive in this context. On the other hand, for the auto industry to embrace the development community, they need to be a little bit more open and minimize the barriers to developer engagement.

One simple and obvious example of the latter is the legalese that is presented when trying to register for these sites. In the video below, you can see how GM Developer Portal welcomes developers who are only looking for information on how the system works – you need to accept the lengthy T&Cs before you can access the most basic information. Ford developer also had some issues with their site being somewhat uneasy to use (although we did note these to Ford and they said they would fix them in the next release of their platform).

It’s still early days in the dialogue between these two communities and it will take time for both to understand each other – opportunities will be created for those parts of the industry that can find the right balance between the needs of the auto industry and the right way to communicate with the developer world.

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