Most embedded navigation systems suck, so Ford wants to give you a choice: use someone else's. Unfortunately it won't come out until next year and the only mapping app it supports so far is from Alibaba – the Chinese e-commerce company. But there is hope.
This new functionality is part of AppLink 3.0, which allows third-party apps to plug into the latest version of Sync to project real-time, animated graphics onto the in-dash screen – but only with apps that are deemed safe for use in the car.
This is a smart move by Ford.
First, it gives drivers the opportunity to use a more advanced, updated, and functional navigation system than the one embedded in their dash (and it could be expanded to other apps). And second, it draws more attention to the open-source SmartDeviceLink program.
Ford opened up AppLink two years ago hoping to make the Android of infotainment systems. Automakers could use the architecture created by Ford in their own vehicles, free of charge, and developers could basically create one app that would run across a bunch of cars. That hasn't really materialized. So the program was co-opted by the propellerheads at Genivi, where it set rules and regulations for apps, which eventually evolved into SmartDeviceLink. A handful of automakers signed up for the program, including BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Nissan, Renault, Volvo, and… John Deere.
While SmartDeviceLink hasn't set the world on fire, it has potential, and that's what Ford is showing off. The first app is from Alibaba's AutoNavi system, but there's nothing to stop Google, Apple, Nokia, or some indie developer from doing the same.
But because of Ford's software update cycle, the functionality won't come until "next year" and will only supports cars running Sync 3, which won't ship until the 2016 model year – right about the time that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are due to gain traction.