Will automotive app stores be the next iTunes?

A growing demand for app development kits like the "Sync" platform for Ford vehicles, brings up the possibility of online app stores for cars and in general.


Ford recently announced it had received more than 2,500 download requests for its app development kit for the “Sync” infotainment platform. It’s not only Ford who seem to be jumping on the app bandwagon, with Toyota, BMW, General Motors and many more also releasing or getting ready to release infotainment apps for their next generation of cars.

One thing that has puzzled me about this interest in apps, is how many relevant, practical, safe and usable apps can there actually be for the use in a car – especially while driving? Furthermore, do consumers really want to spend their time downloading apps to their car and, more importantly, will they be willing to pay for them?

A recent consumer survey published by IMS Research put these questions to consumers in the U.S., the UK and Germany, with some interesting results. First, 80% of respondents stated they would only pay $5 or less for an automotive specific app – already the idea of huge revenues seems slim. Second, only 54% of respondents rated the concept of downloading an app for their connected head unit as attractive, making it one of the least attractive connected services that was presented to them.

However, don’t take my comments the wrong way, I certainly understand the value of automotive apps, and do think they provide a great opportunity to allow manufacturers to keep up with new developments and offer new services over the life of the car, all without forcing the consumer back to a dealership for an upgrade. They also present a way to maintain a relationship with consumers after they have purchased the car – providing the manufacturer hosts its own specific app store. However, it seems unlikely that in five years’ time there will be 200,000 apps available for the next Ford vehicle.

So, while apps present a great marketing and customer satisfaction tool for vehicle manufactures, are they going to offer the potential for a swathe of highly profitable automotive app developments? It looks unlikely to me.

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