Apple has tripled the number of stores accepting Pay in 5 months

Apple Pay is accepted by 700,000 retailer locations in the U.S., and the iPhone-embedded payment service now loads cards from 2,500 card issuing banks, CEO Tim Cook revealed at the kick off of Apple’s Spring Forward Event on Monday.

That’s pretty astonishing growth considering Apple was accepted at 220,000 retailers at its launch in October, meaning retail chains and independent businesses have been either upgrading their checkout gear to accept the near-field communications (NFC) taps used by Apple’s iPhone contactless payment technology or they’ve turned on NFC capabilities in their existing terminals.

A growing list of retailers accept Apple Pay, Apple revealed at its Spring Forward event.

A growing list of retailers accept Apple Pay, Apple revealed at its Spring Forward event.

At the event, Cook flashed a slide on screen that showed many of the retail chains newly on board with Apple Pay. There were carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, airlines and hotels JetBlue and Marriott and many, many new stores.

The number of partner banks quintupled from the 500 deals Apple had in place at launch, which is significant because it means consumers don’t have to apply for specific debit or credit cards to use Apple Pay. Consumers can load any card — or at least the vast majority of cards — they already have in their billfolds into the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Not having the backing of the banks has been a hindrance to other mobile wallets like Google Wallet and Isis/Softcard at launch, but Apple recently claimed that more than 90 percent of all credit and debit transactions could technically be supported on Apple Pay.

Apple is clearly having success embedding its service into retail stores, but it gave an update on its effort to embed itself into vehicles. CarPlay now has the backing of all of the world’s major automakers. Though we have yet to see a CarPlay-enabled vehicle, this likely means that CarPlay will eventually become an option in most newer cars with fancy infotainment systems.

Car makers clash with Congress over Wi-Fi

Congress wants U.S. regulators to hurry up and open a chunk of federal 5.9 GHz airwaves for commercial Wi-Fi, which would let more smartphones, tablets and laptops milk faster speeds out of wireless routers and hotspots. But the automotive industry, which has designs on the same frequencies, really wants the government to slow down.

The airwaves in question are part of a big spectrum package the White House wants to put to shared use, allowing government and military agencies and the private sector to split time over the airwaves. The Federal Communications itself has been searching for more spectral real estate for Wi-Fi. It seems that everyone is on the same page – well almost everyone.

Automakers plan to use one of those spectrum bands (5850-5925 MHz to be exact) for new automotive networks that would connect cars to each other on the highway and to roadside infrastructure, creating the first smart transportation grids. Talking vehicles could coordinate highway navigation, thereby preventing accidents and easing the flow traffic as well as bringing us one step closer to the autonomous car.

This kind of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, as its called, is another priority of the Obama Administration, but the automotive industry has asked the government to apply the brakes on the Wi-Fi plan until the proper safeguards are in place to make sure commercial and vehicle networks can play nice in the 5.9 GHz band. Backers of the plan, however, think the automakers are stalling, and they’ve gotten their representatives in Congress to apply a little political heat.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) revived legislation from last session called the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, which sounds a lot more impressive than what the legislation would actually accomplish. Specifically the bill would require the FCC to “move swiftly” in conducting a feasibility study on the 5.9 GHz band while balancing the need of the automotive industry with those of commercial users. The bill also calls for a study on how Wi-Fi could be used in low-income areas for internet access. Representative Bob Latta (R-Ohio) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.

Big automotive is not happy. AAA and all of the big car manufacturing lobbying groups sent a letter to Congressional bigwigs asking them to oppose the legislation. In a statement, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America said that the automotive and Wi-Fi industries are already working together to see if sharing in the 5.9 GHz band is feasible.

“This collaborative process should continue without Congressionally-imposed deadlines, restrictive parameters or political pressure that creates regulatory uncertainty and could delay bringing these life-saving crash prevention technologies to consumers,” ITS-America CEO and President Thomas Kern said.

But the automotive industry is pretty lonely in its stance. [company]Google[/company], [company]Microsoft[/company], the Consumer Electronics Association, [company]Comcast[/company] and [company]Time Warner Cable[/company] (through their wireless lobbying group WiFiForward), the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Telecom Industry Association and consumer advocates Public Knowledge all applauded the legislation.

Senator Markey: Our connected cars are insecure and leaking data

As our cars gain more means to reach and connect to our smartphones, the cloud and the internet, they’re also creating more pathways to infiltrate our cars’ data and possibly providing a way for hackers to take control of our vehicles, according to a new report compiled by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent letters to 19 automakers asking about the vulnerabilities of their vehicles to hackers, the security measures in place to protect customers from attacks and the data the automakers themselves collected through these connectivity channels. All of the major automakers responded (the three that didn’t were [company]Lamborghini[/company], [company]Aston Martin[/company] and – oddly enough – [company]Tesla[/company]), but Markey wasn’t exactly consoled by the responses.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey

U.S. Senator Ed Markey

All automakers told Markey’s office that they produced cars with some form of wireless connectivity, whether Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a direct cellular link. But when questioned about if and how these “wireless points of entry” were being exploited by hackers and what protections were in place against such exploits, their responses were all over the map.

Several automakers just ignored some of the questions. Most of those who did respond said they unaware of or didn’t have data on any hacking attempts on their vehicles (though one automaker described non-malicious attempts by car owners trying to reprogram their own engines). As for preventative measures, only half of the companies provided specific examples of security technologies and testing, and only two responded that they had the means to identify and react to an intrusion in any meaningful way in real-time.

One manufacturer said it could remotely put the car in a “fail-safe” mode that limited how it could be operated, while another said it could remotely slow the car down and immobilize a compromised vehicle. I would take a look at the report for yourself if you get a chance. While Markey didn’t call out specific automakers responses, he clearly identifies the companies that didn’t respond to specific questions.

Markey car report

Markey’s staff also found that there was another way for hackers to get data from a car without getting anywhere near your vehicle’s radios: the cloud. While many car manufacturers collect vast amounts of information through their telematics services, that data is often collected by partners and stored in third-party data centers, but hardly any of them detailed how that data was secured.

We’re still in the early days of the connected car, so the public isn’t exactly clamoring over hacked vehicles today. That could explain many of the automakers responses: they may not have data on car computer attacks because they are either exceedingly rare or non-existent. But as Markey’s report makes abundantly clear, that doesn’t mean a hack won’t occur, and if it does the consequences could be catastrophic. This isn’t just your computer going haywire or your identity getting stolen. If a hacker gets into your drive computer, he can gain control over your vehicle, even if you’re in it.

Automakers make a point of saying that they keep the various networks of their cars separate for this very reason: The network that remotely unlocks your doors or blares the Beyonce from your iPhone through your cars’ speakers isn’t the same network that controls the engine. But white hat hackers have demonstrated that cars control systems are far more vulnerable than automakers claim. They’ve been able to control braking and acceleration by plugging a laptop into the same on board diagnostic port under your steering wheel. That’s the same network bus telematics services and infotainment systems are tapping with wireless connections.

My experience driving the new Audi 4G LTE connected car

For six weeks, I’ve been driving the first 4G LTE car model to hit the U.S. market — the 2015 Audi A3, which was chosen to showcase Audi MMI connect technology. Features include navigation with Google Earth and Street View, as well as Sirius Traffic, Wi-Fi hot spot, fuel price, weather, picture navigation, news, parking, flight, travel and event information, even Facebook and Twitter alerts, all on AT&T’s 4G LTE network.

A 2015 World Car of the Year and IIHS Top Safety Pick + Award winner, among other accolades, much has been written about the 2015 Audi A3. However, this is not a car review. This is about my experience setting up, using the connected car features in everyday driving, surprises and misses, and why connected car features and capabilities will play an ever-increasing role in your next car-buying decision. Like me, you may not want to wait any longer to get one.

Getting started

Setting up the LTE account with [company]AT&T[/company] took a few minutes and was an efficient, easy process. After the trial period, the LTE data plan runs $16.50 per month as a stand-alone – $99 for six months (including 5GB data) – or an additional $10 per month when added to a Mobile Share plan. Nearly everyone is going to renew this service when the trial ends.

Audi’s connected car experience includes the My.Audi website for configuring features and a mobile app (iOS and Android) for syncing and streaming to the onboard MMI connect system. The My.Audi.com website is where you activate and configure MMI features and services, including destinations and access, map updates, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter, via widgets, and this can take time. New features may be introduced on the website, via app updates and/or firmware updates to the car’s MMI system via LTE connection (or SD card updates, e.g., map updates).

Notable features

Navigation with [company]Google[/company] Earth and Google Maps Street View: The smartphone app lets you select an entry from your calendar as an Online Destination, which then syncs with the nav system, letting you select a calendar entry as destination, all in a few clicks and turns. With a calendar address, Online Destination is far easier than voice search, is much faster than entering an address via touchpad, and can thus be a huge timesaver.

connected car map audi

Wi-Fi hotspot: The hotspot supports up to eight devices on AT&T’s LTE network, which consistently had a stronger signal than my iPhone.

Sirius Traffic: This alerts you to accidents and detours, but mostly confirms that you’re in heavy traffic after it’s too late. I prefer Waze, which provides far more useful and real-time information to avoid or circumvent traffic. Access to Waze or the full Google Maps–Waze integration cannot come soon enough, and hopefully will be added to Audi Connect, which features several other Google services.

Weather: This may be more valuable on long trips or in places where dramatic weather changes quickly occur, but my personal observation of actual weather was better than the “current weather” on the display.

Picture navigation: Select a picture from hundreds of images, or a smartphone picture, and the app sends the address to the nav system, which then guides you there. In theory, this might be useful, but the interface was buggy, and I couldn’t get the street address from the app to the nav system.

Personalized news: As with other included infotainment services, when you reach a complete stop, you can read a full screen. Lift your foot from the brake, and all but the headline disappears. This might be useful to pass time while parked and waiting, but do not try it in stop-and-go traffic. Then again, if you’re parked and waiting, you will probably be able to find what you’re looking for faster on your smartphone.

Fuel prices: The system displays the lowest nearby gas prices, then guides you to the station you select. Far more valuable, especially when in an unknown area, is an on-screen alert that tells you when fuel is low, then guides you to the closest gas station.

connected car gas finder Audi

Parking: This helps you find open parking spaces and lots, which can be very helpful in an unfamiliar place. The app also includes a Car Finder, which tells you the last place you left your car and how long it’s been there, and guides you back to your vehicle on a map.

Flight, travel and event information: Useful, as you would expect, but not accessible while the vehicle is moving.

Streaming content: In addition to [company]Pandora[/company], Spotify and other streaming music, you can choose web radio, podcasts and a wide range of content at the AT&T Connect website, My.Audi, the companion app, or on screen. The app provides access to stations all over the world, by genre, topic, country, language, and vicinity, streamed via Bluetooth.

Facebook and Twitter alerts: Listen to tweets messages and update friends and followers of progress, delays, and new arrival times with canned status messages. Or create your own at the My.Audi website. Some will use these services, but so far, I haven’t.

Surprises

LTE: Signal on AT&T’s LTE network was consistently stronger than the signal on my iPhone 6+ on Verizon. A car is a larger antenna than a smartphone, and makes a better hotspot.

Overall integration: The overall architecture and integration of (1) LTE connectivity, (2) My.Audi web configuration, (3) smartphone app for syncing and streaming, and (4) the vehicle’s MMI system works well. It enables continuing service refinements, new feature introduction, and further integration of IoT, wearables and other services as they become available, all without equipment upgrades, and at a relatively low monthly subscription cost.

connected car audi map

Interface: The user interface is intuitive and easy. For example, press one button and your last playlist, podcast, or music stream picks up where it left off, without missing a beat.

Better CDMA experience:  Ironically, the lack of simultaneous voice/data on Verizon and Sprint CDMA networks is cured by the Wi-Fi hotspot on AT&T’s LTE network. You can have both.

Manage data costs: If you’re closing in on your data plan limits, turn off cellular data on your smartphone and get all of your data from the car’s Wi-Fi hotspot.

Misses:

  • Needs better traffic alerts and integration, via Waze or other app.
  • No OnStar-like crash detection, emergency or crisis assist services.
  • No severe weather alerts or notifications.
  • Audi convertibles are not equipped with voice recognition, calling or destination setting, forcing manual address entry for destinations not uploadable.
  • With all this technology, the A3 (and TT) are the only Audis without standard rearview camera, so that with Google Earth, you can see everything around you, except what’s immediately behind you. (This essential safety feature is mandated on all vehicles by mid-2018.)

Conclusion

A connected car is a smarter car. And from the moment you turn on the ignition, these connected car features really make a difference, from easy loading of destinations, traffic alerts, low-gas warnings that guide you to the nearest station, to the ease and wide range of content easily streamed to your car. A connected car is definitely in your future; Audi’s A3 and the full line of new GM cars have LTE today. Are you ready?

Whitey Bluestein, a 30-year telecom veteran, is a strategic advisor and corporate development executive focused on wholesale, M2M, cloud services, distribution, applications, payments, roaming and connected cars. He is a Gigaom Research analyst, CNBC mobile industry expert and 2013 Mobile Power Player.

Indiegogo project CarVi puts a drive camera into older cars

A lot of the new high-end cars hitting the road come with a bevy of sensors designed to assist drivers and in some cases prevent an accident from happening. Rear and front cameras can alert you to fast-approaching obstacles. Lane sensors will gently nudge you back in between the lines when your drift. And some cars will even park themselves.

But what if you’re like me and have a dented 10-year-old Mazda Protégé? These new advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS for short, aren’t in older vehicles, and in many cases are well out of the price range of new car buyers. Well, a company named CarVi is developing a kind of poor man’s ADAS that you can mount on your windshield, giving a previously blind car sight with the help of a smartphone.

While CarVi has released early versions of its technology with automotive partners in Korea, the company now plans to target the consumer market directly by raising funds on Indiegogo. It’s aiming for $100,000, and early backers will get the CarVi module for between $250 and $300 when it ships in August.

CarVi diagram

The module mounts to the inside of your windshield below the rearview mirror, aims its camera at the road ahead and connects to your smartphone via Wi-Fi. Using computer vision techniques developed by founder Kevin Lee, CarVi analyzes the images its camera captures and compares them against data it collects from an embedded accelerometer. It can tell if you’re drifting outside of your lane, can sense brake lights ahead of you and can even gauge if a car is stopped or moving slowly on the road ahead. Then the CarVi app in your phone will issue an audio and visual warning.

Of course, CarVi isn’t hooked into your car’s computer, so it can’t react for you as some of the new ADAS systems in the market can. But it could help reduce your own reaction time, providing an extra set of eyes on the road. The concept isn’t entirely new. A few years ago I wrote about a company called iOnRoad that has its own augmented driving app.

The difference is that iOnRoad makes its road observations through the lens of your smartphone, which is mounted on the dash. By creating separate hardware, CarVi is definitely a more expensive technology, but also one that’s specifically optimized for watching the road.

Uber and MetroMile offer drivers per-mile insurance between fares

Uber has partnered with on-demand insurance provider MetroMile to start to unravel the tangled web of insurance liability it and its drivers face every time they hit the road to pick up fares. Uber and MetroMile have developed a kind of insurance plan attuned to Uber’s dispatch network that can track precisely when and where an UberX driver picks up and drops off a rider.

That’s necessary because Uber’s coverage only kicks in when an Uber driver is actively working a fare. When drivers are waiting around to be hailed, they are expected to have coverage from their own policies. Confusion over where Uber’s liability starts and stops, though, has been a source of headaches for the company and its drivers for years.

MetroMile won’t just provide a general insurance policy. It uses a plug-in module called a Metronome that works in any car made after 1996 to track a vehicle, calculating down to the mile how it’s driven. MetroMile then charges rates based on that total mileage. With the Uber integration, MetroMile’s meter will turn off as soon as a driver accepts a fare and turn back on as soon as the rider leaves the car.

We’re starting to see more apps and technologies target the unique business case of managing a fleet of vehicles you don’t actually own. For instance, Zendrive recently launched an app that monitors and rates the on-road behavior of drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft.

Uber drivers interested in signing up with MetroMile can find more info here. The company will start shipping Metronomes (which are typically free) in February, but so far the program is limited to three states: California, Illinois and Washington. MetroMile said it hopes to add more states this year as it gets approvals from regulators.

AT&T grows by 1.9 million connections, many of which were cars

AT&T posted yet another strong quarter for new connections, but unlike previous periods this fourth quarter was driven (pun intended) largely by cars. Of its 1.9 million net subscriber additions, 800,000 were vehicles giving yet another indication that AT&T is locking down the 4G car connectivity market.

Ma Bell didn’t do too shabbily in other areas either. The carrier saw its postpaid customer base grow by 854,000, which included 148,000 new smartphone connections and nearly 1 million new tablet data subscriptions. It lost 180,000 prepaid subscribers and 65,000 wholesale subscribers, but it made up for them with 1.3 million connected device links, which includes cars and other internet-of-things devices. [company]AT&T[/company] now hosts 121 million total wireless connections on its networks.

Over the last year, AT&T has been signing deal after deal with automakers to provide the LTE link to their new 3G and 4G cars. Most of those new connected Audis, Chevys, Buicks, Cadillacs and Volvos rolled out this summer and fall (it also supplies the links to Tesla cars), leading to two big quarters of vehicle-driven growth. In Q3, it added 500,000 car connections as well.

Archrival [company]Verizon[/company] welcomed 2.07 million new connections to its networks in a Q4 that was also dominated by new tablet subscriptions. [company]T-Mobile[/company] grew by 2.1 million connections and [company]Sprint[/company] saw a rare growth spurt of 1 million new subscribers.

Financially AT&T posted a net loss of $3.9 billion after seven straight quarters of profit. AT&T said that loss is attributed to actuarial losses on its employee benefit plans, network write-offs and merger and integration expenses. AT&T just bought Mexican carrier Iusacell, and it’s in the process of acquiring both DirecTV and Nextel Mexico, all of which will give AT&T a big presence in Latin America.

“Building out Mexico is going to be a full-court press for the next few years,” CEO Randall Stephenson said at AT&T’s earnings call.

Facebook and Twitter in our cars? It’s a gimmick, says Nokia

An increasing number of automakers from Toyota to Mercedes are putting social media apps and features into their car dashboard, but Nokia’s Here connected car and mapping division decided to see if that’s a capability that drivers really want. Drawing from focus groups Here hosted in the U.S. and Germany, Nokia found the answer was a resounding no.

In fact, some drivers in both seemed almost hostile to the idea. From a blog post penned by Here’s head of market intelligence Christine Mäenpää:

Integrating social media into a car seemed like a gimmick to some or irrelevant to the task of driving.

“What’s the connection with cars?” asked Christoph, a 32-year-old from Germany. “When I’m driving, I don’t want to share anything.”

There’s also a sense that integrating social media into a car’s dashboard does not add any valuable functionality beyond what’s already available on smartphones.

For many of the people Mäenpää interviewed, the driver’s seat was one of the last refuges from the daily deluge of social media. But many also cited safety issues. Updating [company]Facebook[/company] or checking your [company]Twitter[/company] feed might be a great way to wile away the time on your daily bus commute. But [company]Nokia[/company] found that drivers felt they were dangerous distractions in cars, even though most automakers have implemented features like voice commands and audio playback to keep drivers’ focused on the wheel and the road.

While I’m all for more app and internet functionality in my car, I tend to agree with Nokia’s focus groups. I’m not interested in tweeting my random thoughts or examining Instagram photos of my new nephew while in gridlock on Chicago Kennedy Expressway (though I wouldn’t be opposed to an app that reads items from my networking feeds when I want to catch up on my social backlog).

There is a whole category of social-location apps that would be very useful while in the driver’s seat. Glympse, for instance, pioneered the ETA app, which lets you coordinate meeting locations and arrival times with friends and family. Navigation apps like [company]Google[/company]’s Waze and [company]Telnav[/company]’s Scout are adopting such location-based features as social apps like Swarm.

One of the nice elements of these kinds of apps is that they require less, not more, work than dealing with traditional social and messaging tools. Instead of punching an address and arrival time into a text message, you hit a button or speak a voice command and the app does all of the coordination. Ideally those location-sharing apps will one day integrate directly into the nav apps in our heads up displays.

Here’s Mäenpää broached those types of apps with her focus groups as well, but she still encountered resistance. So it may take a while for people to see the usefulness of location-sharing while driving. But Nokia also detected a bit of a double standard when it comes to different services. Most of these drivers admitted to texting while driving.

Verizon unveils a car plug-in module providing OnStar-like services

Verizon unveiled its own take on the aftermarket connected car module Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Called Verizon Vehicle, the technology is similar to other plug-in dashboard gadgets like Automatic, Mojio and Zubie, but Verizon isn’t aiming at the early tech adopter set. Instead, Verizon Vehicle clearly targets the roadside assistance and telematics market pioneered by GM’s OnStar.

[company]Verizon[/company] Vehicle has two components: a module that plugs into the on-board diagnostic port of any vehicle made in the last 18 years, and a Bluetooth microphone and speaker that clips to your car’s visor. The module tracks your location via GPS and maintains a constant connection to Verizon’s cellular network. The visor device connects to the plug-in module wireless and allows you to dial up and talk to a Verizon Vehicle operator or mechanic with a touch of a button.

The Verizon Vehicle module plugs into the OBD-II port of your car and communicates with a visor speaker and mic

The Verizon Vehicle module plugs into the OBD-II port of your car and communicates with a visor speaker and mic

The services offered are right out of OnStar’s playbook: vehicle location, accident alerts and a panic button for emergencies that puts the driver in contact with a Verizon Vehicle dispatcher. There’s also a mechanics hotline that connects you to a live professional grease monkey to help diagnose any problems with your vehicle.

Like other plug-in modules, Verizon Vehicle also taps into the car’s control access network, which gives it access to all kinds of information in the automobile’s internal computer. Through a smartphone app or through text or email alerts, Verizon Vehicle will be able to detail the exact problem your car is experiencing when that check engine light starts flashing. The app and alert system will also help with preventative maintenance, telling you when the car’s tires need to be rotated or when you’re due for an oil change.

Verizon will start selling the service for a monthly subscription fee in the second quarter, targeting an April 10 shipping date. On a site set up for pre-orders, Verizon said it would offer the hardware free of charge with a two year contract and a subscription fee of $15 a month for a single car. For every additional vehicle that uses the service, the charge is $13 a month. The service won’t necessarily be linked to a Verizon phone plan, either, so you can use Verizon Vehicle if you’re on another carrier.

The cars AT&T doesn’t connect

According to Verizon president of telematics Erik Goldman, the product could potentially bring connectivity to 200 million cars of 9,337 different makes and models that currently have no embedded communication link. The exceptions are the newer generations of cars that come with cellular radios under the hood. Ironically, most of those cars are the many generations of OnStar vehicles that Verizon already powers.

Last year, Verizon lost that coveted OnStar deal when [company]GM[/company] decided to go with AT&T connectivity for its next generation of 4G cars, which started rolling off the lots last summer. Still, GM hasn’t exactly washed its hands of Verizon. There are still millions of Chevys, Buicks and Cadillacs — not to mention GM’s discontinued brands — on the road that are still getting their OnStar links from Verizon.

With GM looking to [company]AT&T[/company] for its future connectivity, perhaps Verizon felt now was the time to launch a competing service. AT&T is winning the battle for connecting cars to 4G services, racking up automaker contract after contract. Verizon clearly sees an opportunity in those millions of cars that aren’t already connected.

I’m curious to see what Verizon plans to do with the service. Right now Verizon Vehicle seems limited to emulating OnStar’s core roadside assistance and diagnostic services, but startups like Automatic have taught us you can do a lot more once you get a wireless connection in the car feeding a stream of data into the cloud.

Verizon could start linking the car to the connected home and integrating the vehicle into location-based apps that could notify your family when you’re almost home or alert you when you’re near a store on your errands list. Like MetroMile and Zubie, it could even partner with insurers to offer lower premiums based on your driving behavior. And depending on whether Verizon plans to include 4G in its module, it could turn the car into a mobile broadband hotspot.

This post was updated at 11 AM PT with more details and analysis, and again at 2:10 PM to update pricing info on the service.

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.