Ford has acquired Livio, a car mobile connectivity company specializing in hooking up smartphone entertainment and navigation to dashboards from a variety of brands, as the car company pushes to lead an industry standard for automotive apps. Ford already has its own infotainment system, SYNC, developed with Microsoft and using AppLink for smartphone integration. However, the company also released an open-source version of AppLink - Smart Device Link - to the GENIVI Alliance, the group leading attempts to make cross-marque infotainment systems possible.
The Livio acquisition, Ford claims, will only increase the likelihood of that happening sooner rather than later. The startup has a number of products already in use, such as the Livio Connect API which facilitates two-way communication between mobile apps and hardware products, as well as supporting iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices.
For instance, the Chevy Spark - the 2014 Spark EV all-electric version of which we tested recently - uses Livio Connect to pipe TuneIn streaming radio from a smartphone to the compact car's head unit. The system brings all the controls to the Spark's touchscreen, as well as disabling the app on the phone for safety reasons.
"A single vehicle interface standard gives developers the opportunity to write software faster and more efficiently, providing customers the apps they want to use more quickly. Livio software already is compatible with several commonly used apps and works with all major smartphone devices" Ford
That balance of functionality and safety is something car companies - and regulators like the NHTSA - are looking at closely. Earlier this year, the NHTSA told manufacturers that they must look into ways to prevent drivers from texting and otherwise using distracting features on their smartphones, potentially by blocking the handset altogether.
Livio will run as a separate department within Ford, despite being wholly owned by the car company, and presumably in the hope that existing clients like GM don't back off the company because of its new parent. However, Ford's own infotainment team and Livio's team will "share technologies, intellectual properties and engineering talent."