Car companies aren't known for creating awesome infotainment systems. In fact, though today's vehicles are mechanically very good, quality scores have plummeted because of terrible in-dash software.
That's why many shoppers are excited about the long-overdue arrival of Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. Both systems promise to mimic the interfaces that folks know so well from their smartphones and tablets -- devices that consumers interact with far more frequently than their dashboards.
And yet, car companies won't give up. Today, in fact, Toyota announced that it will consider using Ford's SmartDeviceLink technology in future Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Are the automakers onto something? Or are they simply on a fool's errand?
THE PROBLEM WITH INFOTAINMENT
Of all the infotainment systems on the market today, arguably the most despised are Ford's MyFord Touch and Sync.
To be fair, that's largely because they've been around for so long and because consumers keep shelling out for them. Ford has been at the forefront of the infotainment crowd, spending countless hours and dollars perfecting MyFordTouch and Sync, and being first is never easy.
That said, it's pretty clear that Ford released both before they were ready for primetime. They've been derided as glitchy nuisances, and they're not nearly as intuitive as iOS or Android. In fact, consumers hate them so much, they've sued Ford for damages.
In 2013, Ford may have finally understood the depth of its infotainment problems, and it did something unexpected: the automaker open-sourced a portion of its Sync software called AppLink, which facilitates the use of smartphone apps on dashboards. In doing so, it encouraged developers and other automakers to take the open-source version of AppLink (dubbed SmartDeviceLink, or SDL), tweak it, and perfect it.
Today, Toyota said that it will begin looking at possible applications for SDL in future models.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE? OR PERFECT TIMING?
On the one hand, it would be easy to dismiss Ford, Toyota, and SDL for being very late to the party. Ford's release of SDL seemed like a last-ditch effort to preserve a bit of dignity as tech juggernauts Apple and Google announced plans to take on dashboards. It was the equivalent of Ford saying, "We tried, but we couldn't do anything with it. Maybe someone else can McGuyver this code into something useful before the folks in Cupertino and Mountain View steamroll over us."
The fact that Toyota is only coming to SDL now, two years after its release, doesn't say much for the platform either.
Or does it?
Perhaps the delay has made automakers believe that all hope isn't lost, that they have every right to build their own in-dash infotainment systems because they have a profound understanding of (a) auto regulations and (b) what drivers can and can't do safely on the road.
The question is: will the arrival of Android Auto and CarPlay change those beliefs, and if so, how?
Yes, Apple and Google have undoubtedly experienced more problems and had to work through more obstacles with Android Auto and CarPlay than they'd expected. However, both systems are nearly ready for sale.
That doesn't mean that automakers shouldn't keep tinkering with software. They might stumble across something awesome. But as far as touchscreen interfaces are concerned, most of our money is on the tech firms. After all, that's what they do best.
Have a look at Ford's Sync with AppLink in the video above and share your thoughts in the comments below.