DETROIT -- Bruce Hopkins has been determined to get an app into cars since 2009. And this year the co-founder of tiny BT Software will realize his dream.
His Kaliki Audio Newstand app, which reads news out loud for drivers, will debut this summer as standard in several Chevrolet nameplates.
But his road to the coveted center stack has been long. It took two years to create a version of Kaliki for smartphones. And then two more years -- an eternity in the tech world -- to retool it for General Motors.
Hopkins, 37, and other app developers working feverishly at computer keyboards across the country are becoming important players for auto companies. Get the right apps and you get the right shoppers, in the sweet spot of the market: tech-addicted millennials who will be buying cars for decades to come.
A 2014 Deloitte study found that 52 percent of millennials -- those born roughly from 1984 to 1995 -- say they want apps on the center stack.
And apps, an emerging key area of software for automakers, are seen by many as the key step in delivering content such as streaming music, navigation, news and recommendation services in the cars that those shoppers want.
But the barriers for Hopkins and his colleagues are formidable:
- Unlike a couch-centric video game that can command a user's full attention, an auto app must deliver the goods without distracting from the main event: driving the car, safely.
- Development and testing times needed to adapt an app to the complex workings of a car are, by tech-world standards, staggering.
- Many app developers are working on shoestring budgets and aren't willing to wait years for an idea to pay off.
Hopkins said that one problem for app developers without an automotive background is that "they don't understand what you just can't do in the vehicle." And app operation "has to be seamless."