Can the Auto Industry Make Silicon Valley Developers Feel Welcome?

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playing around with screens, so they naturally gravitated toward creating mobile apps. Getting those same young developers to begin making products for the auto industry will be a challenge, he believes, because they’re impatient and not terribly interested in learning proprietary in-vehicle operating systems that vary from brand to brand. Instead, he says, cars should be able to run off the Android or iOS platforms.

“You have to make it easy for us,” Gupta argues. “I went to Ford’s website and I couldn’t find where developers go. Instead, we’ll end up going to [Ford’s] competitors that make it easy for us. To get developers more interested, the auto industry needs to open up to new ideas. They should invite developers to their headquarters so [developers] can test the apps they’ve created. It would open doors and say, ‘We know you’re important.’ Those companies that treat developers like they’re not important will see developers leave.”

Gupta says the auto industry must also spell out exactly how outside developers will monetize the in-vehicle products they create: “If I spend a month or two developing apps for a car manufacturer, how will I recoup that time and money?”

In Gupta’s opinion, nobody in the auto industry is showing true leadership in the area of courting outside developer talent, though he praises Ford for making the attempt.

In contrast, Scott McCormick, president of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association, is somewhat skeptical that app designers can move easily to auto software. There are some fundamental differences between games and apps, and software developed for the in-vehicle environment, he explains.

“There’s a completely different level of robustness and ubiquity inside a vehicle,” McCormick says. “The app must work the same in Detroit as it does in Alabama.”

McCormick makes another point: Maybe the auto industry should not focus on courting outside gamers and app developers because the in-vehicle environment requires not only software knowledge, but also adherence to host of safety regulations that limit driver distraction.

“The video game and app industries have relatively few restrictions on the user interface,” McCormick notes. “The fundamental difference with a car is that [the car] can be deadly. There are lots of limitations as to what you can do and where you can do it. There have to be protocols built in. We tend to trivialize that—you can’t just put an app into a vehicle. There are all these factors, like user interface, interoperability, and safety. You bring developers in and they think about it: Telematics is a $10 billion industry, but gaming is worth $100 billion. A lot of them say, ‘I guess I’ll stay in gaming.’”

McCormick says that, so far, he’s yet to host a conference that has truly succeeded in bridging the outside software developer/auto industry gap. “It’s getting there,” he says. “NVIDIA understands that [connected vehicle] space. Cisco understands that space. But NVIDIA and Cisco have created a vertical where developers learn the space and build products for it, instead of taking an app or video game developer and putting him in a vehicle.”

McCormick says how much visual, audio, and tactile stimulation a person can handle is very specific to that individual, which complicates the task of designing the user interface. There is also no set of universal, connected vehicle software standards, though entities like the GENIVI Alliance are working to change that. (More on GENIVI later.) There are about 42 networks and up to 200 different sensors in every car, McCormick says, making the in-vehicle environment especially challenging for software developers outside the auto industry.

McCormick points out that after a sometimes rocky relationship, Microsoft is no longer managing Ford SYNC. Instead, Ford will now partner with an early … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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