John Ellis holds the titles of global technologist of connected services and head of the Ford Developer Program for Ford Motor Company. Ford has been a leader in getting what consumers want on the dash, and now the automaker has created its first ever developer program (www.developerford.com), allowing mobile developers to take their content into the vehicle and extend the digital experience. Ford?s dash brand is called AppLink, and the developer technology is Smart Device Link. And Ellis? team is at the forefront of building it, delivering it, and maintaining it for consumers.
RI: At this point in time, in 2014, what do consumers want as far as infotainment?
Based on everything we?ve heard from our customer base and everything we understand in talking to others around, it is three things: They want the digital identity they spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with. Curating it, evolving it, using it ? they want that digital experience to work in the car, seamlessly and easily. Number two is, they want that experience to just work. They want the same ease of use that they?ve become accustomed to throughout the rest of their life to extend to while they are driving.
Ultimately, they want a platform so they can get other experiences they might not normally get outside the vehicle. They want vehicle-centric experiences. They want a platform that allows for developers to build that. That last one ? they don?t say that, but they do say that they would like vehiclecentric, vehicle-specific things, cool things that mirror the car. Mileage, gallons, do I need an oil change, being able to tie in with points of interest, and things of that nature.
RI: What about entertainment?
Part of the value proposition Ford brings with its solutions is that we don?t insert ourselves in the middle of customer choice. You, the customer, get to choose and curate your listening experience. Then we provide the framework to allow whomever you have chosen to extend themselves into the vehicle.
RI: So that pretty much goes back to the phone?
Absolutely. Ford has a well-published strategy, which is three pillars in terms of our communication: built in, brought in, beamed in. We have been evolving that over time, pushing on each of the boundaries as we learn more and as the customer becomes more mature. Ford?s choices have allowed us to build upon a very rich heritage of the device and the digital content that you, as an owner, already have. And we are able to leverage that content into the vehicle.
With that said, we do have plans. We do have a portfolio. We do talk about our ?beamed in? strategy, which is satellite and others, as well as the ?built in? strategy ? the modem, etc. As it relates to the customers today and for the near future, and the customers we have sold to in the past, the ?bring in? solution is the rich buildup of content, of opportunity, for the application developers as well as for our customers to enjoy.
RI: How quickly do consumers change their minds, and how hard is it for the automakers to keep up with that?
It is the crux of that question that has driven and supported Ford?s choices. We acknowledge and recognize that the development cycles in automotive are consistently in the multi-year timeframe. We also acknowledge that development outside the car is consistently faster, sometimes measured in weeks, sometimes in months.
Ford?s goal is to make sure the framework is robust and as long-term as possible, and that it allows the phone, the bring-in device itself, to churn.
Folks have bought, let?s say, a Ford Fiesta 2010. In 2010, Spotify didn?t even exist. And yet, today, a customer who bought the car in 2010 has the luxury of enjoying Spotify if they so choose. The acknowledgement from Ford outright is that we will struggle to compete with those calendars and those timeframes so as not to give up on our pursuit of quality and the pursuit of ensuring the safest drive possible and the brand promise of ?hands on the wheel, eyes on the road.? Our technology choices mirror that. Framework allows the content, the rich identity you develop over time, to be brought in, curated by you. We provide the intersecting framework that allows that to be extended seamlessly into the vehicle.
RI: What does the radio industry need to do to continue to be competitive with all these new content providers?
If I were to stand up on the top of the mountain and shout, it would be ?Understand that smart device.? In 2010, Ford introduced AppLink because we saw the growing need for managing the applications that are on your device. We introduced the first ever AppLink-enabled app ? it was Pandora ? at CES 2011. We had the first ever software developer conference [in September 2014], and we continue the drumbeat of bringing your digital identity into the car.
What we did about 18 months ago was acknowledge that Ford couldn?t do\ it alone and that all Ford vehicles didn?t represent enough volume for the content developers to be meaningful. We open-sourced. We took all the technology, we brought it together, built it up, and then we released it into the open, and we made it available so that anyone ? GM, BMW, Volkswagen ? any car manufacturer, any head unit manufacturer, could take it and use it.
My call to the radio industry, or the content industry at large, would be to become actively involved in that. Customers are wanting content. They just want it in the vehicle in a means that allows them to continue to drive and pilot their vehicle with speeds in excess of 70-100 miles an hour, depending on where they are. It is a unique challenge, and it is one where Ford thinks we are well positioned, and the automotive industry is well positioned to provide a counter-balance for the consumer space at large. We would welcome all content providers to come learn more and to come develop with us and to deploy those solutions to the market.
RI: Is the radio industry doing the right things right now? Is it well positioned?
Broadly speaking, in terms of content and content curators ? maybe. I think there is some gap between what they are doing and what they could be doing, in terms of delivering content and feeding that content to consumers. I see gaps, and I see the opportunity.
My wife, case in point, she loves a particular radio show. But not just the show, all the opportunity that can come with having it in a smartphone fashion. The bios of the talent, learning more about the side notes that might come from the show, things that allow for a richer user experience ? you are hard pressed to get from traditional radio, delivered in a way that is consumable in the car in a safe fashion. I think there is opportunity, and we are prepared to help any radio provider or association to make that happen.
RI: How far away are we from the Internet in the car being easy to use and inexpensive?
I will give you a very provocative statement. With Ford and Ford?s brand strategy, it is there today. You bring the Internet that you use today into the car. You bring that Internet experience into the car. Where we, Ford, acknowledge and recognize our growth opportunity is to make that disparate bring in device experience integrated into the car. We are doing lots of things that we can do to educate content providers and our own customers on how best to do this, and then the industry at large.
At the first software developer conference, Don Butler, our executive director, laid down an open invitation to the industry at large. We welcome our OEM competitors to work with us on this, to understand how we should do this. Research, time and time again, suggests that our customers, the drivers, are going to engage with this content. They have integrated the content into their lives already, outside the vehicle. They are going to want it, and the expectation is, it?s going to be delivered in the vehicle.
The challenge for us in the automotive industry is to step up and deliver that. If we do not do that, it?s going to get done to us, most notably some of the most recent announcements coming out of Northern California on how the consumer industry wants to solve the problem.
We think there is a place in the automotive industry to have a solution. We think the technology and the contributions that we?ve made to the public are the basis of that solution. And we have an open call to anyone to take it, run with it, use it, call it their own, make it, and come work with us in public. Because we want to solve it. We want to solve that gap between what users experience day in and day out, and how they experience that in the vehicle in a safe and secure way.
RI: There was a little bit of a concern in the radio industry about HD Radio recently. Does HD Radio play a role in the Ford dash?
Ford is proud to say we have been delivering choice. When people finally got comfortable in their cars and they wanted content, we installed the radio. It wasn?t sufficient. Then it was a cassette player. Then you moved through all the content and whatnot. Part of one of those solutions was HD. We are responding to customer choice that the consumer demands and wants.
Does it play a role? Sure. It is part and parcel of our product offering today. It is something that consumers use and consumers have available to them. It plays a role. It is part and parcel of the whole plethora of opportunities that we have to provide people with content while they are driving their vehicles.
Ed Ryan is the editor-in-chief of Radio Ink.
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