with Alan Ewing, president and executive director of the Car Connectivity Consortium
Less than a month ago, the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), announced four winners in the first phase of a hackathon based around the MirrorLink in-car platform. Suffice it to say they were not what you might have expected.
For example, there was RidZinGa, a quiz-based app that uses voice recognition without compromising driver security. There was Drive Together, which is designed to make driving in a convoy easier and offers a solution to the common frustrations of guests heading to a venue. There was an adventure game featuring interactive storytelling to help drivers avoid boredom.
The CCC is following up the initial three-day event in Paris by choosing a grand prize winner who will get to take their app through an incubator program and receive €10,000 to get it properly launched. For Alan Ewing, the CCC's president and executive director, the ideas generated by the hackathon were a good example of why MirrorLink will be a competitor in the in-car app space.
"We're a greenfield. There's no business rules, there's no limitations, except the driver distraction concepts, that limit apps from being developed," he says.
Ewing recently spoke to FierceDeveloper by phone about the hackathon and how the CCC's developer efforts are evolving. This interview has been edited and condensed.
FierceDeveloper: How does the recent hackathon reflect what you're trying to accomplish from a developer program perspective?
Alan Ewing: Well, we've been plotting our first hackathon and really been worrying and dithering over it for some time, trying to make sure we got the most bang for our buck. As a consortia, we had to make to really plan this out and make sure we knew what we were doing.
The initial event, where we had an information session, we had that coincide with a meeting of our leadership team in Paris, and that gave us an opportunity to really sit down and talk with the potential developers. We were expecting that we might have about 40 or 50 people. We had almost 100 folks show up, and so we kept adding more chairs. It was really gratifying to see the interest that had been generated by MirrorLink. That was really just to get people oriented to what we were about and to give them a sense of what MirrorLink was. Ten days later we had the kickoff to the actual hackathon. We had more than 35 ideas generated and about 26 ideas pitched. There were 21 actual demos. It really underscored how effective all of the work with the developer community and all the development tools turned out to be.
FierceDeveloper: These are still early days for connected cars, and inevitably there will be other platforms. How are you working to maintain developer loyalty around MirrorLink?
Ewing: We offer them the greatest number of degrees of freedom to operate. We're not trying to limit them in some kind of artificial sort of business rules. We're not trying to limit the number of navigation apps, or that they have to be invited to the community to play, or you have to work within this really constrained set of templates. From that perspective, I think the developers have the most wide-open canvas to paint on. If I were a really creative developer or part of a really creative team, that, I think, would draw me in. Of course, a lot of freedom creates some uncertainty and a little bit of fear as well, but inside of that I think [we] have simplified this world for developers. The proof is in the pudding with the hackathon: We had a group of developers who were relatively inexperienced with MirrorLink who came to the table and they were able to take their ideas from concept into code into functional MirrorLink applications in basically 48 hours. That speaks very highly of all of the baseline work we've been doing. Hopefully the loyalty we're going to generate is not just the freedom they're going to have in painting on the canvas but helping the understand what the canvas is, what the paints are, how to pick up the brush and really do some cool things.
FierceDeveloper: How do you think developers will strike a balance between creating apps that don't distract drivers or create an unsafe driving experience and also keeping them entertained?
Ewing: One of the things we always joked about is that MirrorLink wouldn't have a game. We wouldn't let Angry Birds be played on the dash of the car. But one of the apps that made it through the hackathon is actually an audio group adventure game. The idea there is, it's a story that has points where a listener makes a choice. It's like those stories as a kids where you could turn left or open a door and something happens. It's great because it keeps the driver alert and aware and interested instead of bored and disengaged.
FierceDeveloper: Do you see any common threads that define what a first-class mobile experience will be in a car at this point?
Ewing: One of the things I had to conceptualize and come to terms with is that it's so easy to put all those simple silos of the kinds of apps that you might expect like navigation apps and music players and some extrapolation of those. I think what this hackathon taught us is that while that might be true, those silos are going to be challenged, and those silos are not the limitation. It's going to be things we didn't expect, like gaming. There were actually a couple of other games pitched, a quiz-based game kind of like the ones we used to play as kids in the back of the car. You didn't expect those things to one of those silos, but I've had to redefine some of that conceptualization that I view this world with, and I think it's challenging us to blow those ideas away.