DEARBORN — Danny Newman was shocked when he heard Ford Motor Company was not only looking for developers to work with its award-winning Sync system, but sponsoring a contest encouraging developers to do whatever they could with it.
The contest — held during the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco — turned out to be the perfect motivator Newman’s company, called ID345, needed to fully develop an idea they had been too busy to pursue servicing existing clients like Disney and Sony.
“If Ford hadn’t opened the door for us, Roximity would probably still be nothing more than an idea jotted down in a notebook sitting on a shelf,” said Newman. “In 24 hours we were able to basically take an idea, some notes and sketches, and turn it into the first version of what we have now.”
The Roximity app provides real-time deals and specials relevant to a user’s location, based on personal preferences and interests. Used with Sync, for example, a driver could get a customized verbal message for a special deal on food from a favorite nearby restaurant.
Roximity also reflects Ford’s aim to forge a more open collaborative bond with the wireless, consumer electronics and app developer communities to create a safer and smarter in-car connectivity experience that leverages the mobile devices customers own and love, said Julius Marchwicki, Sync AppLink product manager.
“Apps like Roximity are experiencing explosive growth and consumers are integrating them into so many facets of their lives that we need third parties to help keep up with demand and trends,” said Marchwicki. “Daily deal and location-based services like Roximity exemplify the kind of innovation customers want.”
The number of apps downloaded from iTunes App Store alone indicates just how fast the market is growing. According to mobile apps research firm Flurry, Apple’s online store accounted for about 10 billion downloads in 2011 — double the cumulative number of downloads from 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Similar sites serving other mobile operating systems, such as Android and BlackBerry, have experienced the same explosive growth.
On Christmas day alone, nearly a quarter billion apps were downloaded for the iOS and Android platforms.
Roximity is one of the five new apps Ford is presenting at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show. Less than six months ago, however, it was just an idea.
Driven to change
Newman owns the Denver-based mobile services consulting firm ID345 with Austin Gayer. The 30-somethings are primarily self-taught, said Newman.
Most of their recent business has been through creating apps for clients. But the company has experience in everything from creating websites to running and maintaining text message campaigns.
“We’ve always loved playing with the newest and coolest stuff and creating a sustainable company,” said Newman. “Figuring out ways of doing things that have never been done before or figuring out ways of doing things that can be done much cheaper is what drives us.”
For example, the company created a platform that allows bands to turn their music into ringtones for fans and avoid having to pay thousands of dollars to have parts of their songs used as ringtones.
“Challenge us with a technological goal and we’ll step up,” said Newman.
Challenging Newman’s group — and the countless others like it — to come up with the best app for use with Sync is exactly what Ford did during the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon.
Ford Sync App Developer Challenge was held during the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon last September. The purpose was to stimulate ideas amongst the developer community and demonstrate the possibilities for in-car app innovation with the voice-activated SYNC system.
Teams participating in the Hackathon were given the opportunity to submit and present their app ideas for a chance to become a licensed Sync developer, gain access to the tools and resources needed to integrate their app with Sync AppLink, and travel to CES to showcase their app as part of the Ford display.
“Ford is keeping pace with the explosive growth trend in new apps and services, plus looking into new categories of apps beyond entertainment to be compatible with SYNC,” said Marchwicki. “Participation in the Hackathon event is one method of accomplishing those goals.”
Newman said his team had no idea Ford would become such a big part of their lives before the event.
“I saw the list of sponsors and saw that Ford was one, but I had no idea to what extent they were involved,” said Newman. “When we got there and saw what was going on I said, ‘Oh, man, this is exactly what we need to integrate Roximity into.'”
Within the 24-hour Hackathon period, Newman’s team had successfully created a prototype version of Roximity and was chosen as the winner. Since winning, the team has added two more partners, formed a separate company just for Roximity, and fielded many calls from potential investors.
More to come
The Roximity team isn’t the only party interested in developing Sync-compatible apps. Through Ford’s Sync Mobile Application Developer Network website at www.syncmyride.com/developer, developers have a place to initiate contact with Ford regarding their app ideas.
More than 3,000 developers have expressed interest in creating Sync-enabled apps.
To be compatible with Sync, an app must go through an approval process and meet certain guidelines and standards before Ford will allow it to work. There are certain aspects of the program available only to third parties whose apps have been approved.
Apps that are able to work with Sync are then accessed through Sync AppLink, the free software program from Ford that gives Sync users voice control of smartphone apps. Pandora internet radio, Stitcher news radio and OpenBeak for Twitter were the first apps compatible with Sync AppLink, with more on the way.
“Ford is always looking for good app ideas and just like with Roximity, we will work closely with chosen partners to give them access to the Sync API (application programming interface) and help them develop their app,” said Marchwicki.
For additional information about Roximity, please see a short video at http://youtu.be/djHoH_bnHNY.