The new era of car apps

Published on Dec 05, 2016 in App Development
Apple CarPlay

Mention the term “car app” to someone and you will most likely be met with a blank stare, then a sheepish whisper, “GPS?” As silly as this response may be it underlines the current understanding that the general population has with car apps. And, they are not necessarily wrong. For a long time now the only piece of ancillary technology that has been associated with cars has been a GPS unit. However, this is quickly changing thanks to the advancement of the mobile app development technology, and a host of hardware, software and automotive companies.

The same wave of digitization, automation and overhauling of business models that has so impacted the other industries in the market will inevitability do the same to the car industry. Effects of these forces are already being felt throughout the automotive world and mobile app developers know it, it is seen through the lens of four app development trends.

In days past, to get from point A to B you would either need to rely on your own mode of transport or use public transit. But in today’s landscape there are more than just two ways to get around. This idea of diverse mobility is a trend which shows that people are more willing to experiment with different methods of transport.

A car that drives itself used to only exist in conversations of science fiction and fantasy, but when California-based Tesla showed that its electric cars can not only park themselves but drive their users to work as well it turned heads, to say the least. Autonomous driving is no longer emerging technology, but is quickly becoming commonplace.

Electric cars were once thought to be a quirk, a neat thing to have, and nothing more than a fad. However, soaring gas prices, climate change and the rise of high efficiency batteries propelled the electrification of vehicles. Sure companies like Tesla lead the way, but even the mainstays of the automotive industry like Ford and Chevy have also released electric cars, while supercar companies like Porsche and McLaren have also dipped more than their toes in the electrified waters.

Finally, in this day and age technology has become intertwined with the ability to tap into the global network. As hundreds and millions of new users log onto the internet for the first time every year, a car or a driver’s connectivity will dictate much of how much interaction and engagement car apps will face in the coming future.

The forces and trends that this mobile app development brings will disrupt the automotive industry. For the everyday user, driver, commuter and car owner, the changes it will bring will be positive. And, for those who conduct business in the automotive industry the changes will also be positive, mostly. Those who fail to adjust with the times and integrate new technology will undoubtedly face hardships, no matter how much they want to hold onto the past.

The early stages of this revolution on app development are already being felt with apps currently available and technology currently being developed. Leading the way are the updated versions of the navigation apps that we have come to know, love and rely upon. Companies like TomTom and Waze are showing users the quickest and most efficient routes to their destinations. Recent improvements to their systems allow them to warn drivers of possible delays on their route and propose a different route to avoid the obstruction.


Newcomer Beat the Traffic helps you calculate travel times and avoid congestion on your commute. The aptly named Carcorder turns your humble smartphone into a dashcam with the use of a windshield mount. GasBuddy app, on the other hand, hunts down the best gas (petrol) prices for you in a preset area.

On the entertainment front Spotify app reigns supreme. The fastest and most convenient way of providing the user with their preferred music, Spotify has made a name for itself by also exposing the user to new artists and bands within their genre of interest. There is no downloaded content, everything is streamed.

The feature rich Android Auto has become popular as of late, however what is a user with an incompatible vehicle to do? Enter AutoMate. Integrate features like Google maps, text messaging, voice controls and the ability to answer phone calls with your tablet or smartphone akin to Android Auto. If you’re looking for a sleeker setup consider DashDroid, which boils down the all-encompassing Android Auto into just eight buttons. More of an Apple person, there’s an app for that. iCarMode turns an iPhone or an iPad into a “carputer”.

iOnRoad app gives your car a way to see its surroundings and lets the user know if collision is imminent. It is prudent to mention, however, that it is not as comprehensive as the built-in sensors developed by car manufacturers.

Automatic is the most expensive app on the list at just under $100 USD, as it comes with an adapter. But, it is also the most powerful. Offering a deeper connection to your vehicle than either Android Auto or CarPlay, Automatic is an onboard diagnostic tool of sorts, giving the user insight into their fuel expenditure and how to maximize it. It will also diagnose (to an extent) the cause and fix of those pesky check engine lights.

Having a smart device loaded with car apps is convenient, but how much better is it when you have access to the same apps without ever having to take the smartphone or tablet out of the bag, case or pocket. What if instead of taking out your smart device you step into it.

The future of car apps is here: cars will be just mobile apps. The latest cars are supercomputers on four wheels and are fully capable of having the rich interactions that users experience with their devices. Currently, Tesla is leading the charge with live updates, both in firmware and in apps. Equipped with a center console that has a display that can rival that of a large tablets, Tesla vehicles can replace smartphones and tablets when users are in the car. On top of this, there is also the previously mentioned autopilot capabilities (which is always being refined) and for green points, the car is fully electric and has zero dependence on gas.


A couple years ago, Tesla’s CEO and founder Elon Musk did a bold thing when he released the plans for the Tesla S to the public. This idea of an open-sourced marketable automobile has never been heard before. Fortunately, people were listening. Now companies like China-based Lynck & Co is looking to build on the foundation that Tesla laid out.

Where Tesla revolutionized a car’s hardware (all-electric, autopilot, fully digital central command console), Lynck & Co was looking to do the same but with a car’s software. Their EV (electrovoltaic / all-electric) car dubbed the 01 will have its very own app store. This alone opens up a world of new possibilities for mobile app developers. Now app development companies can have the opportunity to design mobile apps not just to accompany or integrate with cars, but to fashion them with the sole intent of being used with a specific vehicle.

Lynck says that the 01 is the first car with the idea of car sharing built within it. It explains that an owner of an 01 can assign unlock (both door and ignition) codes to a set number of people. It’s like giving someone a digital key. Now users can let other people borrow their car without ever having to give them the keys or even lay eyes on them.

Tesla, Lynck and all the car apps currently available point toward an bright and exciting future in the automotive industry. This is true for the user-consumer as well as those whose goal in life it is to design and develop new and exciting ways that the people in the former group can interact with vehicles and transportation.

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