The car dashboard is not the place to let 1,000 apps bloom

There is growing number of sophisticated connected car development platforms emerging in the auto industry, but so far automakers have been a reluctant to actually let developers at them. The reason is the overriding concern of safety. Unlike on a smartphone, an overly complicated or flashy app on the dashboard isn’t just merely a distraction; it could be the cause of a fatal accident.

Infotainment platform makers and the developers they work with are wrestling with that paradox, said David Kirsch, connected technology engineer for Honda R&D Americas at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference on Thursday. In one sense, the real estate on the dash and the power of on-board hardware gives them an opportunity to make sophisticated and immersive apps, but those are the exact types of apps that distract drivers from what should be their primary tasks: staying in their lanes and avoiding other cars and obstacles.

A panel of speakers, including Glympse CEO Byran Trussel and Aha by Harman VP and GM Robert Acker, all agreed that concern for safety was the main reason why connected cars would remain largely closed as development platforms in the near term.

“On one level you just want to say ‘let 1,000 flowers bloom,’ but you don’t want to let 1,000 flowers bloom on your dashboard,” said Trussel, whose company Glympse has developed a version of its location-sharing app for Mercedes Benz’s in-dash system. For several years, development on the car is going to be limited to a specific relationships struck by carmakers and trusted partners, he said, though Trussel believes controls will eventually be put in place that will allow for a more open development framework.

Automakers are taking a risk, though, the panelists admitted. If they keep too tight a grip on the their infotainment systems, developers and consumers will just start looking elsewhere for connected car apps. “If that safe experience is so de-featured, [drivers] are just going to default to the smartphone,” Acker said.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.