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

Microsoft's Windows Embedded partnership with Ford seems to be unraveling. So what's next for the Softies in the connected car space?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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


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?

Editorial standards