With AppLink 3.0, Ford lets you choose your navigation app

Drivers have long waited for the day their favorite smartphone navigation apps would come to their dashboards, but in the case of Ford vehicles that day could only be a year away. Ford on Monday unveiled the newest version of its AppLink system, which bridges the apps in your in your smartphone with apps in your car, and the key feature of that upgrade is its ability to support third-party navigation apps.

Given the popularity of mobile turn-by-turn navigation apps like Google Maps, Waze, Nokia’s Here Maps and increasingly even Apple Maps, you might wonder why we’ve hardly seen any of them appear in car infotainment systems. Most automakers make a lot of money off of their own embedded nav systems – starting with a big upfront payment for an upgraded navigation trim package and often followed by subscription fees.

Meanwhile services like [company]Google[/company] and [company]Nokia[/company] Here aren’t just competitive; in many cases they’re more advanced than their embedded nav system counterparts. They’re also free to consumers so long as they have a smartphone. While most automakers claim they’re open to any developer that can make a useful and safe app for their cars, when it comes to navigation they’ve always protected their turf.

But [company]Ford[/company] appears to be trying to challenge that common auto industry wisdom. It’s already supports a third-party nav app called Scout in older Sync AppLink systems through a partnership with Telnav, and it’s definitely been encouraging location-services apps like Glympse and Life360 into its developer program. Previous iterations of AppLink have had pretty basic graphical interfaces though, but with the third generation of the system, AppLink will be able to project smartphone graphics in real-time onto in-dash displays, making it ideal for maps, said Joe Beiser, Ford director, Connected Services for Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa.

The move to AppLink 3.0 will not only open Ford cars to broader array of navigation, mapping and location-based apps, but Ford is hoping it will open other automakers’ vehicles to its connected car technology. Ford has embarked on the seemingly quixotic quest to open source AppLink, offering it to other automakers and hoping to spur the same kind of cross-manufacturer app ecosystem that Google has built around Android. So far SmartDeviceLink — as Ford calls its open source initiative — doesn’t have any other takers from the auto industry, but Ford is lending a little bit more credibility to the program by supporting third-party navigation software.

In its announcement, Ford didn’t say it is specifically working with Google, [company]Apple[/company] or Nokia to bring their mapping apps into AppLink (Google and Apple are working on their own in-dash user interfaces Android Auto and Car Play that would bring their nav apps into Fords by an alternate route), but it did name Chinese internet behemoth Alibaba as its first partner. Alibaba’s AutoNavi app will be the first to take advantage to use SmartDeviceLink’s new map projection capabilities and presumably will wind up in Ford dashboards when AppLink 3.0 is released.

Don’t count on using AutoNavi’s in-dash capabilities on your drive home though. AppLink 3.0 won’t launch in Ford vehicles until next year, so it won’t even make its debut in Sync 3, the new upgraded infotainment system appearing in higher-end Fords and Lincolns later this year. It’s also unclear whether older Ford models will support an upgrade to AppLink 3.0. Many lower-end vehicles with AppLink only support text interfaces so it’s unlikely they’ll start displaying maps without a hardware upgrade.