Did Mercedes-Benz Just Debut The Future Of In-Car Apps?

June 29, 2012
Mercedes-Benz app store for European customers

Mercedes-Benz app store for European customers

As everyone with a smartphone or tablet knows, apps are big business. But searching online shops for the app you need can be frustrating -- and Mercedes-Benz isn't simplifying matters.

Today's app environment

Today's consumers purchase most of their apps for one of two platforms: Android or iOS (i.e. Apple).

The Android owners on our staff appreciate Google's laissez-faire approach to app sales. However, if you're an Android user yourself, you know about the problem of fake apps and how damaging they can be to your hardware (and your wallet). It would be nice if Android's main marketplace, Google Play, were marginally more curated.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Apple and its iron-walled App Store. The App Store is certainly streamlined, and Apple's quality control team make sure that apps are thoroughly vetted before they go on sale. But that totalitarian approach slows down the roll-out of new apps and puts serious limits on what developers can and can't do -- not to mention, limits on what users can do with their devices. For example, there's now a Google Chrome app for the iPhone, but there's no way for iPhone users to make it their default browser.

So in a nutshell, we've got two extremes for apps: a free-wheeling, easy-access marketplace (in which the buyer better beware), or a tightly controlled, centralized app market run by a company that limits the kinds of software users can employ on their devices.


According to a report on Cnet, Mercedes-Benz has now added another app environment to this mix -- this one targeted at Mercedes owners in Europe. The apps run on Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system, which debuted back in 2008.

At the moment, there are only two apps available in the store: a news app and another to help find parking spots. Both run 9.95€. These supplement apps that come pre-installed on COMAND (e.g. a weather app), and we have a hunch there will be more apps in the store before long.

Is this the future?

We know that apps will be hugely important going forward. The degree of that importance will depend on factors like distracted driving laws (which could curtain drivers' ability to access apps) and autonomous driving features (which could move the ball toward the other end of the field). But however it all shakes out, we're confident that apps will play a major role in tomorrow's driving environment.

We also know that apps need to be curated -- especially when they're interfacing with very heavy machines that move at very high speeds. One terrible glitch, one overlooked loophole, and something could go tragically wrong.

But do we really have to have individual app marketplaces for each of our cars? 

Until auto manufacturers begin using cross-compatible telematics systems (e.g. systems that run on Android or iOS), it would seem the answer to that question is a resounding "yes". But at least one automaker may have found a workaround: Ford. 

Ford SYNC keeps things simple by putting the smartphone at the center of the app experience. True, SYNC facilitates the use of certain apps by creating user-friendly interfaces, but at heart, drivers still only have to worry about installing apps on one device: their phones.

And yes, we all know that SYNC has been the cause of some problems at Ford lately -- notably, in initial quality ratings -- but we have to believe that Ford's programmers will make the process more intuitive before long. And of course, there are other automakers doing similar things on other telematics platforms.

The point (and we do have one)

We suppose all this discussion boils down to one major question: in a world where apps are ubiquitous, would you rather buy apps for your smartphone at one store and apps for your car at another, or would you prefer having them all in one central location?

The simplicity of the latter is really appealing, but maybe there are some good reasons for the former? Let us know your thoughts in an email or in the comments below.

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