Is there life for Microsoft in the automotive space after Ford?

Is there life for Microsoft in the automotive space after Ford?

Summary: Microsoft's Windows Embedded partnership with Ford seems to be unraveling. So what's next for the Softies in the connected car space?

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Reports and more reports (Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal) are emerging that claim Microsoft and Ford may be parting ways on the Embedded Automotive front.

windowsembeddedautomotive

Supposedly, Ford has decided to switch partners -- to Blackberry with its QNX real-time operating system platform. Both Bloomberg and The Journal says the reason for the switch, which is said to take effect in 2016, is -- because Microsoft wanted too much to license Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive technology that's at the heart of Ford Sync. So far, no one from Ford, Microsoft or Blackberry is on the record confirming this. But my sources are saying this is likely true and is likely about the money.

I'm frankly more interested in what, if anything, Microsoft plans to do next on the car front. Is Microsoft backing away from the automotive space, especially if Ford and Microsoft part ways?

Microsoft officials are not talking, but I'm hearing from my contacts Microsoft is planning to stay in the embedded automotive space -- despite the fact that there are no references to the Embedded Automotive SKU on Microsoft's Windows Embedded Web site. Microsoft does call out "intelligent car experiences" as one of its embedded industry focus areas, however. Those experiences allow drivers to "access innovative in-car communication, infotainment, navigation and fuel-efficiency features," Microsoft's site says.

Back in 2012, Microsoft officials said more information would be available in early 2013 about Windows Embedded 8 Automotive. As far as I know, that SKU never materialized.

Microsoft now refers to its Windows Embedded team as its "Internet of Things" team, according to the bits and pieces I've dug up previously. The IoT team is part of Microsoft's unified operating system team under Terry Myerson. That team seemingly includes what used to (and may still) be known as the Connected Car team. In addition to working with Ford, that team has done deals with Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Aston Martin and McLaren. Ford is one of the auto makers Microsoft partnered directly with to create custom, integrated telematics platforms; others in that group include Fiat and Kia.

The new IoT team is working on not only embedded software, but also accompanying cloud services. Just about any of the former Windows Embedded Automotive "experiences" -- communication, infotainment, navigation and fuel-efficiency -- could be turned into a cloud service fairly easily, I'd think.

I don't have further details (yet) about what's next for Microsoft on the automotive IoT front. And I'm probably one of the worst to try to guess, as I live in New York and don't drive. Any Microsoft-centric consumers have a wish list?

Update: Software developer Keith Hill wondered aloud (on Twitter) whether there might be an opportunity for Microsoft to build out a car app store of some kind with dedicated car apps/services. Microsoft Research built an app store for the HomeOS project, so why not?

Topics: Cloud, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows, Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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39 comments
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  • Give me a nice phone mount with built in Qi charging and a NFC tag

    for driver mode.

    Instant non-obsolete car system.

    The steering wheel could easily integrate just like and old-fashioned nav/phone system. and give the the car a nice built in mic.
    everss02
    • Wireless phone holder

      Nokia already make exactly that ... l have one.

      look for the CR-200
      Will McClenaghan
  • I don't think cloud services will work for cars.

    People can take their SUV's pretty far off the beaten track. ie. places where satellite is the only usable form of communications. I don't think most would be happy paying for a satellite link just so they can listen to their music.
    anothercanuck
    • And your devices already have internet, so why does the car need it?

      People already have connected phones, mi-fi's etc. so why pay for another data plan for the car?

      It seems to me that built-in systems have two fundamental drawbacks (three, if you count cost). The testing and approval process is so long that by the time tech makes it to the car, it's unexciting. And then if you do buy the car, next year some better tech comes out, and you can't get it on the almost new car you bought last year. Even if they make the systems more easily and cheaply upgradeable, you're still fighting the long process to get your 2014 feature tested and approved for your 2013 car. And manufacturers don't want to put resources into improving things for those who have already bought the car.

      People get great updates for all kinds of tech products that don't involve the regulatory environment of a car. That includes my Garmin GPS - I'm better off to have bought a $150 standalone GPS with lifetime updates than I would be with a $1000+ built in one that can only be updated at the dealer, or not at all. Until these problems get worked out, I'll find in-car tech systems unexciting.
      dbnick
  • Let's hope Blackberry can come up with a decent UI.

    The MyFord Touch system by Microsoft has been an embarrassment for Ford.
    Userama
    • MyFord Touch

      Exactly. The MyFord Touch system is the one feature that causes Fords to get downgraded ratings in Consumer Reports.
      Honeyboy Wilson
    • Amen

      The UI is clunky compared to other automotive OEMs' offerings and the software quality has been horrific.
      Njia1
    • It wasn't MS fault according to Ford, in a WSJ article today

      apparently the bugs they said were unrelated to MS technology, meaning it was Ford's layer on top of their embedded OS.

      You can switch all you want, it's not going to help if you put poor code on top of QNX.

      Apparently the two reasons boil down to getting a better licensing deal from Blackberry (less expensive) and outside companies that work in these related areas that are already familiar with QNX. Lets hope they can come up with a better UI then Ford has done so far.

      The interesting part of the article was that they looked at Android as it was free, but decided against it. It could be they had no confidence in Android, as "free" is still cheaper then what they'll be paying Blackberry, so why pass it up completely?

      On a side note, I also read that BlackBerry Messenger will be launching on WP later this year.
      William.Farrel
      • Reboots were caused by the Ford app?

        Hmm ... that doesn't sound right.
        daboochmeister
        • My Fiat has Microsoft technology

          The in-dash computer never rebooted (but, it's a lot less software than Sync). That whole complicated Sync UI is Ford software running on a Microsoft platform.

          In general, if you want a good user experience on a computer, don't hire a car company's engineers to do it (another example, the first generation BMW iDrive).
          Flydog57
        • sounds correct to me

          I've seen plenty of apps cause a system freeze or reboot. And made a couple myself :)
          chips@...
      • Baloney

        As badly as Microsoft wants to be in the automobile user space does anybody doubt that they would have made a deal to drastically lower the price, the same way they slashed the price on Windows for netbooks to block Linux, if Ford wanted to keep Windows in their cars?

        The more interesting point is that they chose a Unix-like operating system over Windows. They probably chose QNX because it has been proven reliable as it is used to manage nuclear-power plants and by the U.S. military for unmanned aerial drones. Who would blame them for being extra careful after being burned with Windows? It's not a knock on Android that they chose QNX, which has far more experience in the embedded space. You're just twisting things to try to make a knock against Android.

        And it's not apparent that the bugs were not MS's fault. As I said before:

        Nowhere in the article does Ford say that the bugs were their fault.

        An unidentifiable source saying "the bugs in the system weren't related to problems with Microsoft's platform" means nothing. That just sounds like corporate face-saving talk to not burn bridges with Microsoft. Ford CEO Alan Mulally was a candidate to become Microsoft’s chief. He's not stupid. Try reading between the lines...

        Ford developed the system WITH Microsoft jointly. Microsoft is the software expert. They don't get to blame Ford for failure in their area of expertise.
        cosmolee501
  • What, no more USB stick upgrades for Ford owners?

    When Ford owners were mailed a USB stick to do their own upgrade Ford sunk in the car consumer ratings and has not since recovered. I think that was the beginning of the end of Ford and Windows embedded.

    http://support.ford.com/sync-technology/install-updates-sync-myford-touch
    WhoRUKiddin
    • Interesting

      What is simpler: setting up an appointment and driving to dealership OR inserting USB stick into dashboard. Obviously it is easier to drive to dealership ;) Some people are nuts.
      paul2011
  • "Is there life for Microsoft in the automotive space after Ford?"

    I certainly hope not. It will be a bummer if I have to exclude car purchases from consideration because they installed MS software.
    dfolk2
    • I hear you dfolk2.....I feel your pain.

      I hate dismissing Samsung and other smart phones because they installed Android.
      xuniL_z
  • Is there life for Microsoft in the automotive space after Ford?

    Sure. There are other car manufacturers out there besides Ford. And with Microsoft's touch enabled UI it would be a perfect fit for the automotive industry.
    Loverock.Davidson
    • Phooey. More MS BS.

      Ford was by far the biggest customer. And now that Ford has seen what a blunder their MS choice was, I bet the others bail too.

      Other car makers will just jump to install the OS that caused Ford's J.D. Power reliability index to drop from from 5th to 23rd:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/business/after-ratings-drop-ford-reworks-touch-screens.html

      And:

      "Google Inc. announced an alliance with General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. and chipmaker Nvidia Corp. in January to bring the Android operating system to cars. Apple Inc. is working with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, Nissan Motor Co. and others to introduce its iOS operating system to cars with devices such as the iPhone."

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-23/ford-said-to-drop-microsoft-for-blackberry-qnx-in-sync-units-2-.html
      cosmolee501
      • cosmolee501, apparently the other MS systems are working better then Ford's

        so I can understand why Ford took responsibility for the bugs in the system.

        And as the articles stated

        "because Microsoft wanted too much to license Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive technology that's at the heart of Ford Sync."

        Interestingly enough, they decided against Android, opting to still pay for the imbedded OS, though likely getting it at a much better cost (it's not like Blackberry is in any position to charge a premium)

        I guess they saw something they didn't like in Android.
        William.Farrel
        • Ford did no such thing

          "so I can understand why Ford took responsibility for the bugs in the system."

          Nowhere in the article does Ford say that the bugs were their fault.

          An unidentifiable official saying "the bugs in the system weren't related to problems with Microsoft's platform" means nothing. That just sounds like corporate face-saving talk to not burn bridges with Microsoft. Ford CEO Alan Mulally was a candidate to become Microsoft’s chief. He's not stupid. Try reading between the lines...

          Ford developed the system WITH Microsoft jointly. Microsoft is the software expert. They don't get to blame Ford for failure in their area of expertise.
          cosmolee501