2000 channels and they’re always on – what’s not to Heart?

iHeartRadio, one of the industry’s leading and most popular audio streaming services, is now offering a fully-integrated experience on Ford SYNC AppLink (iOS and Android).

Boasting thousands of stations and the broad range of responsive voice controls Ford drivers have come to expect, taking iHeartRadio on the road promises to bring even greater choice – and an improved listening experience – to Ford’s SYNC 3.

And while this obviously marks a new and exciting chapter for Ford and iHeartMedia, the relationship between the two goes back to the start of Ford’s AppLink program, as Scott Burnell (Ford Global Lead/Business Development and Partner Management) explains: “iHeart were one of our original partners when we launched AppLink in 2011 – they’ve been a great partner of ours for the entire time we’ve had AppLink, and through our relationship with iHeartMedia we’ve learned a lot.

“Back in 2011, for example, iHeart had a separate app version for use in vehicles, called iHeartAuto. The issue with that, as we realized, is that it didn’t really fit into the spirit of what AppLink is. You ended up having two different versions of an app you like using – and nobody wants that hassle. AppLink is there to help users bring their habits from outside the vehicle into the vehicle – so if you have separate apps for outside and inside the vehicle, it was harder to build the user base.”

Lesson learned, as Scott says. To address this issue, iHeartMedia and Ford worked together to AppLink-enable the flagship iHeartRadio app – so now the millions of users who are already enjoying the app on a regular basis will be able to seamlessly continue that experience inside the vehicle.

For Scott, the success of iHeartRadio comes from a commitment to full functionality: “Not only did iHeartMedia enable the flagship app, but they’ve also added new capabilities and features. In the iHeartRadio app, over the last year or so, additional levels of subscription have been developed – Free, Plus, and All Access – and each of these has its own new features. What’s important here is that iHeart has gone on to enable some of these features to be used in the vehicle, too. It’s about extending the capabilities and habits the user has outside the vehicle, and bringing them into the vehicle.”

The key, Scott says, is continuity of user experience: “If there are two or three features that you use all the time, that you love – with iHeart, say it’s the ability to replay a song, or use voice commands to call up a recommended station or playlist – and then you’re in your vehicle and that feature isn’t enabled, well it simply breaks the continuity of experience. Suddenly you’re using this app that you like and know, but there’s a feature missing in the place where you want to use it the most, and with the minimum fuss – in your car.”

The manner in which iHeart and other developers have embraced and opened up their full suite of features to AppLink is indicative, Scott says, of the success publishers are experiencing with in-vehicle integration: “There’s a momentum shift. Not only are our vehicle owners using the system more, and becoming more comfortable with the technology, but our developers and publishers are seeing an uplift in the usage of their apps.”

The iHeartRadio approach shows that it’s important to maintain – and evolve – the content that you have. Scott continues: “It’s very easy for any developer, regardless of their content type, to do a basic integration into the vehicle; to enable a couple of features, for example, and see how it goes. But unless you fully engage, that integration stagnates.

“On the other hand, if you are evolving your application overall – much like iHeart is doing – and you keep developing new features and pushing them to your in-vehicle integration through SDL and AppLink, it becomes a great opportunity to showcase the new features that you’ve built.”

Scott also reiterates a central principle of SDL – the idea that it’s open source, and that to thrive it must accommodate the whole spectrum of developers and idea generators working across the tech industry.

“When we launched SDL we tied it to Henry Ford, back in the in the early 1900s, saying that he wanted to ‘open the highways to all mankind’. And that’s the spirit we took with SDL. We thought: Sure, there are some very large and great brands we can work with – like iHeartMedia, like Waze, like Amazon – but we created a developer platform to give everyone access to the SDKs, to the technology, and to the developer guides.”

What this has created is a platform where everyone has an opportunity to develop the next “big idea” in in-car integration: “Look at the music genre of apps, for example. If you’re a small record label, or even an independent band; if you have an application and you want to do the work to AppLink-enable it; if you have an idea, we’ll give you all the resources and tools and support you need, and at the end of that process your app can literally be in the vehicle right next to Pandora, iHeartRadio, or Waze.”

And for app developers who are interested in working with the FordDev team, Scott says the message is clear: “When we see a company like iHeart, with millions of subscribers, pour resources into developing in-car integration, it really helps get the message out to smaller developers that there are huge benefits to working with SDL and AppLink.

“And if a company as big as iHeartMedia thinks it’s important to keep their offering up to date, it should be important to you, too.”