Ford

Livio, Ford, and the pursuit of connected dashboard standards

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 12:45pm

The ability to pivot, moving in a new direction from the same vantage, is crucial in basketball and business. Livio, whose acquisition by Ford has lit up the connected-car niche, pivoted adroitly from making internet radio devices to writing car connectivity software. Ford, for its part, appears to be pivoting on its Sync and AppLink assets, adding Livio’s branded technology as a wholly-owned subsidiary living side-by-side with Ford’s digital-dash solutions.

Livio’s flagship product is a universal platform that links consumer devices to car dashboards. The scenario: You bring your smartphone into the car, and your favorite Internet listening apps get connected to the dashboard’s head unit where you can more easily and safely control them. Ford’s AppLink performs the same basic function -- Scott Burnell, Ford’s global lead of business development, describes AppLink as a snippet of code written into infotainment apps such as Pandora and TuneIn.

Matching the ease of AM/FM radio in the car with the programming variety of Internet radio is the brass ring for users and app providers. But that mission does not appear to be shared among car builders, most of which provide independent solutions. Questions of who provides the Internet connection, the apps, and the operating system are being answered in multiple ways, reflecting many marketplace approaches.

RAIN talked with Tim Stevens, Editor at Large of CNET and noted car-tech expert, about creating dashboard standardization out of the deep fragmentation which currently exists. Stevens pointed to Livio’s existing relationship with Chevrolet as an interesting deal point. (Livio Connect is implemented in the Chevrolet Spark.)

“It’s interesting to see Ford acquire somebody who has third-party relationships with other car companies, GM in this case. And I’m guessing that GM is planning to expand that out to other models. Ford has been pretty open about wanting to establish some kind of standard of smartphone connectivity and infotainment in general. This is a pretty strong indication that they are serious about wanting to define that standard.”

Burnell, who appeared on RAIN Summit’s “Race to the Dashboard” panel ten days ago in Orlando, explained why Ford’s “brought-in” solution to dashboard standardization, in which the user provides the apps and the Internet connection, is favorable to users and app developers. 

“The life cycle of developing and launching a vehicle is about five years. If you embed Pandora into the head unit, going through the OEM’s [development] cycle, it might be obsolete when it comes out. With Ford and the brought-in solution, it’s the user’s app and they are already using it. It can connect to the vehicle, and work.”

Stevens notes that car companies have become more adept at separating dashboard development cycles from the rest of the car model’s evolution, quickening the creation of new dashboard connectivity features. But that isn’t moving the industry as a whole toward a standard infotainment dashboard, according to Stevens. “I don’t think the OEMs are motivated to play nice together. They ultimately are focused on delivering what they think is the best product for their buyers. Making any concessions in the interest of keeping their developers happy is not on their radar. Ford is the only one that is thinking about that.”

Livio’s mandate, as expressed by founder Jake Sigal, is “More connectivity with less hassle.” That ideal is certainly foundational to dashboard standardization, but there are many paths forward through a thicket of technologies. The mobile device companies like Apple and Google are not (yet?) significantly involved, and the competitive landscape could get more complex than it already is. A universal listening system in the car, one that approaches the simplicity of AM/FM receivers, could be a mirage for years to come.

Ford to add SiriusXM Internet radio app to cars with SYNC AppLink

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 12:50pm

Satellite radio broadcaster Sirius XM Radio announced today Ford will add the SiriusXM Internet radio app to cars with its SYNC AppLink.

This means that for the first time, features available previously only on the web -- SiriusXM's customizable MySXM streaming radio and SiriusXM On Demand programming -- would be available in certain Ford vehicles. The New York Times says Ford's app support would also, for the first time, allow subscribers to use the SiriusXM Internet radio app on iPhones and Android handsets. 

Obviously, satellite radio began as a medium primarily intended for the in-car audience. But SiriusXM has evolved its streaming technology in recent years to enable features that would likely be unfeasible via satellite broadcasting, like custom music streams.

Ford's SYNC AppLink will enable voice command, steering wheel, or dashboard control of the SiriusXM Internet Radio App.

The Times writes, "Sirius XM will have plenty of streaming-music competition on Ford Sync dashboards, which already include Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, Slacker and Mog. There are also traditional radio stations offering streaming channels through TuneIn, plus independent station apps and Clear Channel’s iHeartAuto, which streams more than 800 stations from 150 cities."

Read the SiriusXM press release here. There's more from The New York Times here.

GM to equip 2014 cars with 4G mobile

Monday, February 25, 2013 - 12:00pm

General Motors, a pioneer in car-connectivity with its OnStar system, has fallen behind other automakers in the category (like Ford and its Sync system).

Now GM hopes to leapfrog other car makers by wiring 2014 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Opel, and Vauxhall brands in the U.S. and Canada with 4G mobile broadband technology.

This will not only give drivers and passengers connection at ten times the speed of current offerings, but makes the car itself a "virtual smartphone" (most competitors' systems, as well as GM's current MyLink system, pictured, require an actual smartphone be connected to the dash).  The Wall Street Journal reports GM will use AT&T as its 4G provider.

We can't wait to hear more about this and other matters related to in-dash delivery of Internet radio at RAIN Summit West, April 7 in Las Vegas. We'll feature a panel called "Dashboard Discussions" to tackle these issues. Get more info on RAIN Summit West here.

Read more from The Journal here.

Gracenote hack tailors music to driving conditions

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 8:20am

We reported yesterday on metadata and music ID company Gracenote launching their developer program and giving access and tools for others to build services using Gracenote's data. Today GigaOm reports on Gracenote hacking a Ford Focus to get access to vehicle performance data -- and using that data in the car's entertainment system. The result: a car audio system that musically responds to your driving conditions!

At the Music Hack Day event in San Franciso last weekend, Gracenote engineers tapped a Focus' "Control Area Network." Using that info, Gracenote triggered the audio system to play different songs based on what the car was doing (windshield wipers on, accelerating over 50 mph, etc.).

While this "is hardly a mood-sensing stereo," GigaOm writes, "Where Gracenote takes this technology next will be very interesting. Imagine if you could plug this info into Pandora’s music recommendations algorithm... Once Pandora learns you like to listen to the Rolling Stones when on the open highway with the top down, it effectively starts learning your driving moods."

Read more in GigaOm, and see a demo video, here.

Engadget gives Ford AppLink "Best in Show"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 1:15pm

Tech news source Engadget awarded "best in show" accolades in nine categories to wrap up its coverage of the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Engadget's winner for "Best in Automotive" went to the Ford AppLink developer program for its SYNC in-dash system -- for which Ford selected jacAPPS as their House Developer for radio apps (see RAIN's coverage here).

JacAPPS is the division of Jacobs Media launched in 2008 to produce mobile apps for broadcasters (and other categories). They've created more than 750 apps for brands like WTOP/Washington, D.C., KIRO/Seattle, WEEI/Boston, WGN/Chicago, and 91X/San Diego.

"It is Ford's developer program that shows the most potential, however, enabling developers to easily upgrade their existing smartphone apps to interact with the company's SYNC AppLink," Engadget said. "Most important: it's totally free."

As James Cridland explains in MediaUK, "For a while (with Ford's SYNC), the only apps that you could control were the big ones - presumably iHeart Radio, Pandora, TuneIn, those types of things. Now, though, they're opening this up to any individually-branded app. So, if you've your own app, your station, too, can be in the 'home screen' of the car dashboard - and control your app through voice commands and the buttons on the steering-wheel. That's massive: since it opens up the car dashboard to anyone who wants to be there. Including your station."

See all of Engadget's CES "best in show" choices here. Read more from Cridland here.

Chevy, TuneIn, Rhapsody, Ford announce CES in-dash deals; Livio demo's new FM Connect

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 12:10pm

Yet even more deals announced at CES this week to bring Internet radio to cars!

Chevrolet has added web radio tuning service TuneIn to its MyLink system to bring the app to MyLink-equipped Chevy Sonics and Sparks. The automaker demo'd the new feature at CES.

And we've mentioned Ford and its SYNC Applink system a few times today. The automaker announced it's adding streaming music service Rhapsody to more than a million Ford and Lincoln vehicles, via SYNC. This is Rhapsody's first full integration with an automaker. Last month (and thus, not related to CES), Spotify announced it would connect with fellow Swedish company Volvo for in-dash operability.

Finally, Livio demonstrated its new technology, called FM Connect, designed to allow in-car FM radio listeners to safely interact with FM broadcasters and sponsors from the dashboard via a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. Livio is reportedly exiting the car radio kit market.

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