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General Motors' Nick Pudar on delivering dream apps in the car

General Motors is looking to deliver dream apps in the car – and you can be part of it. We caught up with the company’s director of developer ecosystems, and Auto Hackfest judge Nick Pudar, to find out how.

General Motors is on a mission to deliver the ultimate driving experience by gearing itself up to deliver drivers’ dream in-car apps -- and with the company’s participation at the Auto Hackfest at Apps World Europe this October you can be part of it.

Of course the dream app differs by user. For General Motors’ director of developer ecosystems Nick Pudar, who is speaking at Apps World within the Developer Track on day one and is also a judge of the Auto Hackfest, his ultimate app would be a virtual on-board PA. “I want a rich location based service that will signal to me those things that I know I need to get done on a to do list that would be integrated with mine and my wife’s calendar, would remind when it’s time to leave for the next event and take into a consideration the traffic.”

For others their dream app may fill a whole other purpose. “For someone else it may be a very immersive music discovery app that takes into consideration the weather or if I’m on an open highway – and plays the music tuned into the mood, the weather, and time of day,” he says.

The ultimate app is the in eyes of the beholder as we already know from the mobile world – but for developers the automotive market offers huge opportunities, according to Pudar. As such it’s a business General Motors is investing heavily by installing app frameworks into its vehicles, the first of which will launch next year, and launching its Developer Portal earlier this year. The innovation follows on from the company’s OnStar remote access business which the company has been running for 17 years.

“We recognise that the range of possibilities that people will want available to them while in their vehicles is going to grow. By having apps specifically designed for vehicle use allows the driver to customise their car and provide unique entertainment for passengers,” says Pudar.

Although this offers huge opportunities for automotive manufacturers to have a continuous dialogue with customers there are big benefits for developers too. “The US consumer alone spends 450 hours a year in their vehicles so the global market is large but the number of apps developed for vehicles is not. If a developer develops for the smartphone the awareness and access by customers is very limited and it’s very difficult to be discovered. As apps get developed for vehicles there won’t be loads so a developer who creates a meaningful app for the automotive experience will get noticed,” says Pudar.

The automotive market also offers developers the chance to get creative since it requires them to think differently. “It’s a unique opportunity because the vehicle environment is also quite unique,” he says. Of course safety is the primary concern so General Motors provides guidelines on how to develop for the automotive market that limits steps in a task and eyes on task.  But Pudar says it’s also about thinking about things users already doing in their car – whether it’s legal or not. “There are many things drivers want to do and already do it through their smart phones – they know it’s not safe but they do it anyway,” he says.

And as Pudar says the market is there. “The opportunity is going to be distinctly unique and much larger than people anticipate it could be. We are building 8 to 9 million vehicles a year and are starting to put apps in select vehicles next model year. I can’t comment how fast the rest of the industry will catch up but the developers that begin to work with GM will have an important lead,” he says.

But most of all Pudar says both Geranl Motors and developers can travel the same route together. “We are learning and developers will be learning. We are trying to ensure we share those insights as effectively as we can and take the cars with these apps on human rides and provide feedback with developers so they can optimise performance of the apps. It’s a new space. We are learning very aggressively,” he says.

So what’s the most important lesson General Motors has learnt so far? “It’s that taking an existing app on smartphone and replicating it in a vehicle doesn’t work. An app on a smartphone or tablet is designed for an immersive experience but an in-car app isn’t and has to be simplified,” he says.

As he points out, that can be about going back to the absolute basics. “At one of the hackathons we saw the simplest app we’d ever seen but one that we looked at, smiled and said ‘that’s perfect’. The app simply offered a tap-touch tracking of either personal or business mileage for drivers. “It’s a great app and a simple glimpse at the innovative ways in-car apps may be used,” he says.

You will be able to see more innovations happening live at the Auto Hackfest at Apps World Europe and hear Nick speak within the Developer Track. You can still register for both opportunities

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