Ford has its eye on millennials – born between 1979 and 1995 – because there are so many of them. It launched its voice-activated SYNC system on the Focus, rather than on a costlier vehicle, and its research indicates that millennials’ Internet on-ramp of choice is a mobile device.
Lots of interest in smartphone apps, especially for Apple’s iPhone; lots of concern with driver distraction, so it makes sense to develop smartphone apps that work with SYNC. To do that, Ford created a SYNC API (application programming interface) and selected six computer science students at the University of Michigan/Dearborn to try it out.
At a recent press event in Dearborn, the students unveiled two applications – FollowMe and SYNCcast. FollowMe allows carloads of millennials, or anyone else, to follow a lead car to, say, a party, without having to maintain visual contact. Turn-by-turn directions are transmitted from one phone to the others, and read aloud through the SYNC system. The application sounds promising for times, frequent or not, when someone in the lead car knows how to reach the destination but doesn’t have the destination’s address. SYNCcast lets drivers select and play Internet radio stations programmed in advance.
Ford obviously has to be careful in allowing developers/applications access to SYNC, but it expects to release its API to trusted development partners sometime during 2010. In my opinion, the company deserves credit for taking the initiative to integrate smartphone apps safely into the driving experience and enlisting the aid of college students to make it happen. The exercise was good experience for them and provided valuable intelligence for Ford. Whether FollowME or SYNCcast ever see the light of day or not seems less important than the message they convey – we care about you (millennials) and you know what you want better than we do.