Tech Transformers

We need to think like a software company: Ford

Ford needs to think more like a software company in order to thrive within the future of its industry, the carmaker's head of connected services told CNBC Thursday.

Cars are becoming increasingly connected with each automaker having their own in-car systems. Ford has a software system called SYNC which allows people to tether their smartphones to the car. But another feature called AppLink allows developers to make apps that can be downloaded on a phone but controlled via voice commands in Ford's cars.

Ford has opened its proprietary system up to developers in the past couple of years as it looks to get more app makers on board.

"We need to adopt more and more of a mindset of a software or services company. Meaning partnership will be key and being open and being inviting will be key," Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services at Ford, told CNBC in an interview at the Web Summit conference in Dublin.

"That's why we took AppLink and made it open source which was proprietary."

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Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Ford ran a developer challenge at the Web Summit where app makers could come and pitch their idea and receive a cash prize. The winning app was called Drive Efficient which gives drivers feedback about their driving, for example, it would notify them if they were too aggressive with the accelerator.

Another app that was pitched was called Find Home. If you are looking for a new home to rent or buy, as you are driving around in your car, the app will notify you when you're near an available house or flat.

This is Ford's first developer challenge in Europe and it highlights the carmaker's push to crowdsource innovative apps, which has not traditionally been the realm of auto firms.

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Technology giants have been focusing heavily on the auto industry as well, with Google testing driverless cars and speculation that Apple could be producing a vehicle of its own. Apple and Google both have their own in-car operating systems that allow users to connect smartphones to the car and have their apps displayed on the car's central screen.

But far from being competitors, Butler said Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto, will feature in Ford's cars.

"We will have a system that will be Android Auto and CarPlay and they will have AppLink uses as well. We don't want to restrict users' ability to be productive. We think we will get credit as Ford for doing that," Butler said.

"We compete but in other senses we are partners. It's something we have to become accustomed to."