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SAN FRANCISCO — When Ford officially rolls out the highly promoted 2011 Fiesta to dealers, the automaker revealed the vehicle also will have SYNC AppLink, a downloadable software program that allows for hands-free control of smartphone applications.

The program can allow for access and control of Android and BlackBerry smartphone applications with voice commands and vehicle controls.

Ford indicated this week that it will introduce AppLink on most SYNC-equipped vehicles next year as well as provide interoperability with other smartphones.

"The growth in smartphone mobile apps has been explosive, and Ford has worked hard to respond at the speed of the consumer electronics market," explained Doug VanDagens, director of Ford's connected services organization.

"SYNC is the only connectivity system available that can extend that functionality into the car," VanDagens continued.

"AppLink will allow drivers to control some of the most popular apps through SYNC's voice commands and steering wheel buttons, helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road," he went on to say.

Ford believes the Android Market and BlackBerry App World are among the leading growth markets for mobile apps. Executives contend the new SYNC AppLink can seamlessly integrate applications using the vehicle's voice and user interface controls, including buttons on the steering wheel.

The automaker highlighted that the first SYNC-enabled apps available later this year include Pandora Internet radio, Stitcher "smart radio" and Orangatame's OpenBeak app for Twitter,

Along with additional applications in the works, OEM executives pointed out that updated versions of each app, incorporating the SYNC application programming interface (API), will be available through Android Market and BlackBerry App World for download.

Ford emphasized that its SYNC App Ecosystem has been geared to help consumers harness technology for enhanced convenience and safety. Some of the benefits the company mentioned:

—Built-in apps, including Vehicle Health Report and 911 Assist, are downloaded and installed directly on the in-car SYNC operating system.

—SYNC apps like Traffic, Directions & Information rely on beamed-in, or "cloud-based" information. Drivers can access the Ford Service Delivery Network, a network of data centers providing turn-by-turn directions, business searches, and on-demand news, sports and weather information, through a simple voice-connection using their cell phone.

—SYNC AppLink represents the third category of the ecosystem, brought-in apps, leveraging apps installed on a user's smartphone, such as Pandora, Stitcher and OpenBeak.

Ford cited studies that revealed how mobile app development has blossomed from a niche market just three years ago into a $4 billion industry by 2012. Those reports also indicated that sites serving specific mobile operating systems, such as Android and BlackBerry OS, have also experienced massive growth. The automaker said some analysts predict the mobile device will become the No. 1 source for Internet access by 2015, surpassing the home computer.

"Ford and SYNC will answer the consumer demand by offering the only platform available for drivers to safely control their mobile devices and applications in the car," the automaker contended.

"Leveraging SYNC's safer voice commands and steering wheel controls, drivers are able to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, and ‘brought-in' apps residing on a consumer's smart phone also eliminate the need for yet another piece of hardware to be installed in the car which only serves to add cost and complexity," Ford went on to emphasize.

The OEM went on to point out that drivers can download SYNC-enabled mobile apps through the same app store interfaces they currently use. As SYNC-enabled versions of existing apps are released into the app stores, Ford explained that users will be prompted to download the latest version upon connection.

"Also, as developers grasp the notion that the vehicle interior has opened to them, a new dimension of apps designed from the outset to maximize the unique in-car environment will follow," the automaker interjected.

Continuing with that developer theme, Ford also has rolled out a new developer network on its SYNCmyride Web site at www.syncmyride.com/developer. The company noted that developers can find a link to submit innovative ideas and sign up for the latest information and news about the SYNC application programming interface (API) and software development kit (SDK).

Ford thinks the package cam allow developers to modify existing applications and create all-new apps that can successfully interface with SYNC.

The automaker said it's working with trusted partners to complete beta-testing on the SDK. Once beta-testing is complete, executives stated a broader release of the development tools will occur later this year.

Ford revealed that initial reports have been positive, with one of its development partners creating a SYNC-enabled version of its app just three days after receiving the development tools.

"We're very pleased by the rapid development time and positive feedback we've seen from our first partners," VanDagens noted.

"We want to encourage all developers to visit our site and submit ideas, helping us tap into the global pool of innovation and creativity," he concluded.