GM Opens Developer Portal Ahead of 4G Car Launch

People were buzzing at least week’s Telematics Update conference about the dawn of the 4G car, made possible starting in 2014 thanks to a partnership between General Motors and AT&T.  In my informal, off-the record poll, executives running some of the world’s largest mobile technology companies said they considered it to be the biggest thing happening in telematics at the moment—and most admitted they weren’t currently GM customers.

GM is now following in the footsteps of Ford by openly and ardently courting software developers to create apps for use in cars. Though GM’s launch of an online developer portal may be new, GM’s commitment to offering consumers connected vehicles is nearly two decades old, says Nick Pudar, vice president of planning and business development for OnStar.

“OnStar and GM have been in the connected space for many years,” he says, noting that GM has a “solid, strong commitment” to working with developers to maximize GM vehicles’ 4G connections. “Your phone is very customized. That same developer community working on smartphone apps will want to develop tools for inside vehicles.”

Pudar says GM is providing the infrastructure for developers to create apps to run on a vehicle’s touchscreen dashboard as well as APIs for apps that are accessed remotely. The bandwidth that comes with a 4G connection will allow cars to download real-time content and updates, simultaneously use voice and data, and create wi-fi hotspots for passengers inside the vehicle to use. Eventually, Pudar says, it will allow vehicles to connect with one another.

Pudar says that GM’s connected car strategy differs from Ford’s by having the connectivity built into the cars through the 4G connection. “We’re focused on a set of apps that don’t require your mobile phone to be there,” he notes.

What remains to be seen is which entity will have the stronger influence. Will Silicon Valley teach automobile manufacturers to be faster, leaner, and more agile? Or will automobile manufacturers teach Silicon Valley to make products that maintain value over time? Pudar hopes it’s a little of both, though he admits there will always be those developers who are intimidated by the slower pace and regulatory obligations required in the auto industry.

Since it takes several years for an automotive concept to make it to market, GM plans to bring developers into the equation at the end of the process. “Our connection hardware meshes in late in the game, sometimes years after the car is on the market,” he says.

At the recent TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Pudar says, a team of teenage kids participated in a hackathon and came to GM officials saying they wanted to work on an app specifically for cars. None of them were drivers—and that, in Pudar’s estimation, gave them the perfect perspective that GM would never get internally.

The teens created an app that offered voice-based driving instruction, offering feedback on things like parallel parking and speed limits. It was a hit both with GM and the audience at the hackathon. The teenage developer team ended up taking 2nd place in the competition overall, and said they were going to take their prize money to build the Learn to Drive app for GM.

“That app will probably find its way into our vehicles,” Pudar says. “And, to be honest, it’s not something we ever really thought about.”

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