Ever since Tesla disrupted the automotive industry’s definition of infotainment system, app developers have been wondering when a Tesla software development kit (SDK) would emerge. An SDK would allow the Tesla 17″ touchscreen to become a full third-party ecosystem, but Tesla has shown little interest in the discussion. Until now.
Elon Musk was in Hong Kong this week to attend a conference of tech developers and took the opportunity to address the topic of having a Tesla SDK. “As we have sort of thought about it more, the logical thing to do from an app standpoint is to maybe allow apps on your iPhone or Android to project onto the center display, as opposed to trying to create a new app ecosystem,” Musk said.
Update Jan 30, 2016: Musk provides more detail on app mirroring during last night’s Q&A session with Tesla owners in Paris.
Quite possibly, Tesla has concerns about the security risks that might be associated with releasing an SDK. At last year’s GPU technology conference, Elon told the audience that the company has thought hard about how to prevent hacking. “We’ve put a lot of effort into that, and we’ve had third parties try to hack it,” Musk said.
In August, Marc Rogers, of content delivery network CloudFlare, and Lookout Mobile Security co-founder Kevin Mahaffey were able to successfully hack a Model S, but they had to do it from inside the car. Their hack involved opening up the dashboard and physically connecting a laptop to the car’s computer systems.
Aside from the potential of opening up additional security risks, having a Tesla specific SDK might also limit its audience of developers as it’s presumed that the developer would need to own, or have access to, a Tesla in order to produce apps for it. By allowing Android or iOS apps – an ecosystem of apps that are vehicle agnostic and make up the majority of the mobile apps market – to mirror itself on to the Tesla center console, the company could be making a strategic move to align itself with the greater market.