Mercedes-Benz has become the first vehicle manufacturer in the world to launch an automotive app store (although concepts have already been shown by quite a few).
The ‘App Shop’ is already live: http://apps.mercedes-benz.com/apps/
Currently, two apps, Parking Finder and News (powered by dapd), are available for purchase for €10 (1 year’s subscription).
Other apps such as share prices, Yelp are expected to be made available in the near future. Note that Google Search, Weather, Facebook are already available as standard apps within the COMAND Online system.
Also the availability of apps and pricing may vary by vehicle model, launch date etc. For example, the News app is available as a standard feature on the new SL Class.
The individual features and restrictions while driving are also likely to vary by app. The news app, for example, will support multiple languages including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Russian and will restrict the user from viewing the entire news article when the vehicle is being driven. News headlines will always be available.
Because the COMAND Online system is browser-based, the App Shop enables ‘over-the-air’ activation of apps.
The operation is simple - The user logs into his or her account on the App Shop and chooses the desired apps (pays if necessary). The next time the user gets into the car and connects the system to the internet (Bluetooth phone with tethering data plan required currently), the system connects to the server, and the server simply ‘makes available’ the users’ list of apps.
As the system is using a browser, there is no heavy download of the entire app (so hopefully no phone data bill shock to the user). This process can be compared to the setting of ‘Favourite’ web pages within Internet Explorer or Firefox on a PC or smartphone.
Obviously there are limitations such as internet connectivity, decent connection speeds etc to enable a good user experience, but this is a very neat way of enabling simple apps in the car (ignoring the business model side of things!). With more vehicle manufacturers already using browser solutions and taking into account the talk of HTML 5 for the car, we can expect more of these browser app shops to appear in the near future.