The Next App Store Is in Your Car

Auto opens road for new media, ad channels

Cars are increasingly becoming just another connected device. The shift is thanks to in-car platforms like Ford Sync and General Motors-owned OnStar that allow drivers to make calls, listen to iHeartRadio or check Facebook through their vehicle. Connected cars have been in market for several years, but—like the iPhone—it may be apps that accelerate adoption.

Earlier this week at CES, Ford announced that it would open up Ford Sync to app developers, which should quickly grow that platform’s app base beyond its current 63 apps that were built internally or in partnership with companies like Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio. And Pioneer Electronics rolled out its AppRadio car stereo that connects with a smartphone to stream car-compatible mobile apps through the in-car dashboard and audio system. An in-car app platform could revitalize the aftermarket automotive industry. Pioneer’s vp of marketing, Ted Cardenas, said the brand held a car app hackathon in partnership with SEMA 60 days ago and two of the apps created will be submitted to the app store within the next 60 days. Comparatively it usually takes Pioneer 18 to 24 months to add a new feature to its products.

These apps could unlock another screen for advertisers, even as they continue to grapple with smartphones and tablets. The possibilities abound considering all the new behavioral data the car platforms could unlock like letting Jiffy Lube notify someone when they need an oil change or a nearby supermarket sending a coupon when someone’s on their regular route home from work. But not everyone’s embracing the opportunity. iHeartRadio has yet to let advertisers target ads to in-car users, though Clear Channel Digital president Brian Lakamp said that his team has spent time looking at the possibility but has nothing to announce right now.

That might be okay for now as the connected car market remains nascent, with auto brands ironing out what kinds of apps they’d like to allow behind the wheel. Brands like AT&T and BMW have run numerous ad campaigns raising awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. That’s why manufacturers like Ford plan to be even more stringent that Apple in approving apps for its App Store. “We’re not interested in every kind of app but in apps appropriate for the vehicle,” said Tony Cooprider, a senior technical leader at Ford.

Of course, safety won’t be much of a concern once manufacturers like Audi, Lexus and Google begin to roll out their self-driving vehicles. Then all media and advertising will be on the table, er, dashboard. 

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