Before you get excited (frightened), they’re not making a vehicle together. The two auto manufacturers are simply sharing some code. Open source software sharing in the tech industry is very common. The most notable example of open source software is Google’s Android platform. It draws from the insight of developers in the community in addition to those within the company. Recently, Ford used this approach with their AppLink software. AppLink is the system that connects smartphones to the SYNC platform. Of course, partnering with a rival is different from sharing code with a community. But a partnership with GM recently led to the development of new nine and ten-speed transmissions.
This time, it’s Toyota’s turn to play nice with SmartDeviceLink (SDL). As part of Ford’s AppLink, SDL helps phones communicate with cars. SDL will be shared with the community to make sure phones properly communicate with “infotainment systems.” Ultimately, Ford and Toyota hope this will lead other automakers to adopt the software. So far, Subaru, Mazda, Suzuki, and others have joined the initiative. Presumably, other major players will be forced to join to avoid having to develop their own system. Ultimately, more customers will be able to connect their devices easily – which is a clear victory. But will it lead to increased automaker collaboration?
Ford has a limited incentive to share its best ideas with competitors. They’ll be saving the real innovations for themselves. This summer, they’ll be adding Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to Sync 3 systems. At the same time, they’ll be giving customers the option of adding Wi-Fi hotspots to older vehicles. Ford and Lincoln models from 2010-2016 not currently equipped with Wi-Fi will be able to add the feature at the dealership. They’ll also gain the ability to start, lock, and unlock from a smartphone app. Retroactively adding this kind of technology is sure to increase the value of older Ford vehicles. Impressively, Ford is the first automaker to add this capability to older vehicles. Consequently, their customers will understand why they’re not so keen to share.