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Gen. 3 OS choice will be critical given beating Sync 2 led to in quality rankings

Reports have been swirling that Canadian tech firm BlackBerry Ltd.'s (TSE:BB) QNX unit would be displacing Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows Embedded Automotive operating system from America's second largest automaker, Ford Motor Comp. (F).

I. QNX Helps Ford's Rivals Catch up

The reports seem plausible; while BlackBerry is known for smartphones, its QNX operating system -- acquired in 2010 -- has been gaining a lot of ground in the automotive space.

Ford was the first mass-market automaker to debut an infotainment system in the U.S. and the first to deploy a touchscreen infotainment system.  Both products were powered by Windows Embedded.

The first generation system was a resounding success, with a few minor complaints, but the second generation system has led to four years of headaches for Ford and its partner, Microsoft.  While Ford was stuck trying to repair that system, other automakers were catching up with the help of QNX. 

QNX Hyundai vehicle
QNX is seen running in an infotainment system for Chrysler's Jeep Brand.
[Image Source: Autoguide]

QNX's microkernel design is attractive to automakers.  Versus traditional monolithic kernels like Windows' kernel, the microkernel doesn't need to be recompiled to add or remove core services.  Plus it's much more compact; back in 2004 it could fit on a single floppy disk.

Today QNX is the world's top automotive operating system, adopted across a number of luxury brands, and many major automakers including General Motors Comp. (GM) (the top American automaker), Chrysler (a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat SpA (BIT:F) and the #3 American automaker), Honda Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7267), and Hyundai Motor Comp. (KSC:005380)(KSC:005385) (KSC:005387) (KSC:005389).

Currently Microsoft has about 25 percent of the market, while QNX has 50 percent.  If QNX were to displace Windows across Ford's lineup, it would mark a major triumph for BlackBerry, with all large-volume U.S. automakers united under its banner.

II. Contract Still in the RFP Stage, Not a Done Deal

But will it happen?

CNET asked that question directly to Ford managing director Pim van der Jagt at the 2014 Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Mr. van der Jagt answered:

Sync 1 and 2 was done with Microsoft but we are not married with them. For us, it's a supplier, so every time we keep evaluating is it the right partner.

We are in the process of, we are spec'ing out our requirements for the next generation: what we want to do, what features we want to add, what functionality. Then you go through a normal supply selection process. Those requirements for the next generation get sent out to everybody, to Microsoft, to Apple, to everybody, and they come back with offers... We go to evaluation and make a choice and that choice hasn't been made yet.

Pim van der Jegt
Ford's Pim van der Jegt, Ph.D [Image Source: TKEC Taiwan]

In other words, QNX has a shot to power the third major generation of the Sync plaform, but it hasn't won yet.  To get that contract it has to not only beat out Microsoft, but also Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) automotive-geared iOS variant, which is looking to make a charge into the automotive space.

Ford's choice will be a critical one.  Not only will it determine whether BlackBerry is sole ruler of the U.S. market, it could make a big difference in Ford's quality rankings.

MyFord Touch on the Ford Explorer

The graphical companion to the underlying Sync system, MyFord Touch, debuted in 2010, alongside an identical system for the Lincoln luxury brand, MyLincoln Touch.  The systems have been plagued with problems including rebooting, freezing, as well as overarching problems like design and safety complaints.  Ford has reacted fairly aggressively with patches and by restoring some alternative features such as physical knobs and buttons.

These issues have directly triggered major drops in Ford's annual quality ratings from both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates.

While some of Ford's infotainment woes have reportedly stemmed from third party developers who dropped the ball on key portions of the MyFord Touch code, some of the frustrations have also inevitably come back to the OS developer, Microsoft.  Mr. van der Jagt's comment certainly sounds as if it echoes some of that bitterness.  Thus Microsoft will have to fight particularly hard to earn a place in Sync 3 and avoid being bumped out for QNX or Apple.

Source: CNET

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I have a better idea
By Belegost on 2/27/2014 8:14:33 PM , Rating: 4
Hear me out here - what if they focused on making a really good car, and dropped the retarded touchscreens entirely. I rented an Escape with that in it, it was one of the worst car experiences I have ever had, and the Nissan I tried was just as bad. And I don't think it has anything to do with the software, it has to do with not wanting to try to find things on a stupid touchscreen while driving.

If they really feel they need to have touchscreens distracting people from driving - how about working on integrating a smartphone better? Maybe a universal dock that holds it on the dash with charging support and able to be angled usefully for GPS purposes.

Bluetooth support and apps on all the big platforms to transfer car data to the smartphone, adding reminders to your calendar of upcoming maintenance, or when the gas tank is running low, providing detailed alerts to the users phone when something is wrong. Have a fitbit like app that monitors your driving style and helps you get better mileage.

But on the touchscreen devices everyone already has, and that make sense to be touch screens. Not in the middle of the dash making control of car functions difficult.

RE: I have a better idea
By chizow on 2/27/14, Rating: 0
RE: I have a better idea
By GeekWithFire on 2/28/2014 9:15:12 AM , Rating: 2
So if infotainment is the future because of smartphones, does it not make sense to stop trying to build a smart phone in the car; reinvent the wheel, if you will? If their demographic for this feature is people who are dependent upon smart tech, then it stands to reason they already have a device. Why not focus on integration of existing devices and let the 3rd party developer base run with it?

RE: I have a better idea
By Dr of crap on 2/28/2014 10:07:15 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, exactly. WE ALL have smart phones already.
What would be great is if the car worked very closing with that smart phone.

WE not need touch control, knobs work best for this and will come back as we all figure that out.

Its called a durability. As much as car makers would want us to buy a new car every 2 years, we want them to last 20 years, be it the engine, or the control of the car!

RE: I have a better idea
By Ktracho on 2/28/2014 1:34:39 PM , Rating: 2
Not everyone has a smart phone. My wife actually has one, but often times it's in the house, not in the car, and not because she wanted to leave it there. Sometimes she has it in the car, but the battery is dead.

As for Ford's touchscreen, at least on my electric car, I can control pretty much everything (except for the navigator) with buttons and knobs or with the touchscreen, probably voice, too. It's my choice. If I'm driving, I can quickly press a button (often times on the steering wheel) and not get distracted by figuring out where to put my finger on the touchscreen. I can still glance at it to see important information.

RE: I have a better idea
By JediJeb on 3/2/2014 5:48:07 PM , Rating: 2
I don't have a smart phone either, neither do my parents and probably a third of the people I know. For us touch screens are not a familiar way to interact with devices, so there is a learning curve if we purchase a vehicle with one in it.

A guy at work had the option to buy a new Ford Focus with the Sync, the salesman told him that if he did he needed to know that if it ever broke, the car would not even start since all the security ran through it also. Now I am not sure that is true, but another guy at work that did buy one with Sync had to have his battery replaced and they hooked up a booster battery to maintain all the computer setting while the new battery was installed, because if it went without power they would have problems getting past the security system as it would lock them out because the power was lost, then they would need to reprogram his system.

That all seems a little too complicated to me for something as simple as an automobile should be. I would hate to have a ten year old vehicle that went out of commission just because a fancy touch screen died and nobody made replacements for it because they could no longer get the needed chips. Did that once with a piece of lab equipment that was old but worked perfectly, until the old green CRT went out and you could no longer set the controls, and guess what they no longer make. Loss of a little 5 inch CRT made us have to spend $70,000 on new equipment, I hope the same doesn't begin to apply to vehicles soon.

RE: I have a better idea
By chizow on 2/28/2014 8:42:53 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the thing is, if they just integrated a smartphone or tablet into a car and stripped out some features they could call it a job well done. These infotainment systems already cost far more than the $500 or so a high-end phone or tablet would cost you on the market.

The problem is, smartphone makers don't make cars. And car makers don't make phones (except maybe Samsung in Korea only). So no one is going to give their tech away for free to the other without everyone getting a satisfactory piece of the pie.

Google is making strides in this direction though with their Automotive alliance with Nvidia, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, bunch of others.

As for the integration of existing devices, the reality of it is, even having to take the phone out of your pocket, snap it into your holder is more of a pain in the ass than most people are willing to deal with on a day-to-day trip to trip basis. I know I only bother to mount my phone for drives of 1 hr or more or if I don't know where I am going.

The infotainment system is great because it's always integrated with the car and just connects to my phone for things like Bluetooth calling, Bluetooth Audio etc. without having to do anything with it physically.

RE: I have a better idea
By Zak on 2/28/2014 10:35:49 AM , Rating: 2
There are things that work well with touch screens but there are also a lot of things that don't . Insisting on having everything controlled by a touchscreen is just awful. I'd still want to have bass and treble knobs and manual fan/temp knobs, not tiny touch buttons and not touch screens. A touchscreen requires extra steps to adjust simple things.

RE: I have a better idea
By shaidorsai on 3/1/2014 4:34:09 PM , Rating: 2
Not everyone has a smart phone...and not everyone wants one either. I have zero interest in lugging around an electronic collar so businesses and the government can follow my every waking movement. Don't use Twitter, could care less about social networks like Facebook...the last thing I want to do is be "plugged in" constantly because some lazy car makers can't be bothered to build their own ventilation and radio controls...

Ford blew it
By Varun on 2/27/2014 4:46:34 PM , Rating: 5
As much as DailyTech wants to make this about Microsoft vs Blackberry, the problems with MyFord Touch had little to do with Microsoft. Ford outsourced the apps that run on the OS, and they suck.

Ford even said in the original WSJ piece that this has little to do with Microsoft:

"MyFord Touch had problems with freezing, or failing to recognize voice controls early on. Ford has been upgrading the system to work out the bugs, but most of these issues had little to do with Microsoft, the official said . "

A QNX based "infotainment" system is going to suck if they put a crappy interface on top of the OS.

RE: Ford blew it
By Nekrik on 2/27/14, Rating: 0
RE: Ford blew it
By JasonMick on 2/27/14, Rating: 0
RE: Ford blew it
By Nekrik on 2/28/2014 10:38:29 AM , Rating: 2
my utter fail at reading has brought great shame.

I do apologize, this is what I get for article hopping, my apologies for the second half of the comment...

RE: Ford blew it
By retrospooty on 2/27/2014 4:52:11 PM , Rating: 2
That, and they are probably coming up to contract negotiation time... The single best thing you can do to get the best possible price is to make your vendors well aware that you have other options.

RE: Ford blew it
By Argon18 on 2/27/14, Rating: -1
RE: Ford blew it
By atechfan on 2/27/2014 5:20:13 PM , Rating: 2
When was the last time you installed apps on the traffic lights?

RE: Ford blew it
By retrospooty on 2/28/2014 9:45:04 AM , Rating: 2
Argon is always more interested in slamming MS than he is in making sense, or evaluating any product.

RE: Ford blew it
By chizow on 2/27/2014 11:40:56 PM , Rating: 2
If I had to guess it's the hardware more than the software implementation. I haven't had any reliability/freezing issues with MyFord Touch on my 2014 Fusion Hybrid, but the touchscreen is horribly slow/laggy. The voice activated commands work well for the most part, other than the NAVI which is junk.

I'm also surprised the article didn't cover some of the upcoming implementations by Google, as they seem to be the most obvious potential competitor in this market.

I really hope they go to QNX
By Monkey's Uncle on 2/27/2014 4:17:46 PM , Rating: 2
The Microsoft-based Sync system sucks monkey turds.

RE: I really hope they go to QNX
By Nekrik on 2/27/2014 4:48:36 PM , Rating: 2
Stolen from another board, but I thought the same till finding out that they outsourced development.

"Just to add slightly more detail, Ford outsourced MyFordTouch development to a company called BSQUARE Corp. Other manufacturers successfully used all of the Microsoft bits and built non-buggy experiences on top of Windows Embedded Automotive. The core OS wasn't the problem, it was the crap BSQUARE built on top. Equally terrible code on top of QNX would lead to an equally terrible user experience."

RE: I really hope they go to QNX
By Chadder007 on 2/27/2014 9:31:21 PM , Rating: 2
Outsourcing generally ruins things.

By spamreader1 on 2/28/2014 8:39:19 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed, which begs the question, why didn't Ford do thier infotainment system in-house? They do have some talented engineers floating around, seems they could have built thier own system.

By Monkey's Uncle on 3/2/2014 9:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
Problem is that BSQUARE is made up of ex-Microsoft managers and worse was referred to Ford by Microsoft.

B-Squarerd was contracted to create MyFordTouch - the graphical components of Ford's infotainment/hvac system.

I don't have much issue with MyFordTouch (the grapical ui) any more. Over the last couple updates the touch recognition has been getting better and it does proactively block you from doing things that should not be done while driving (though a passenger should be able to do it).

What has not gotten better is the Sync voice control. It is as buggy as ever and quite separate from the My Ford Touch graphical UI. B-Squared was not responsive for that travesty. When you consider that Ford has always pushed owners to use voice control when driving over using touch screens, they have really screwed the pooch when it came to voice control implementation. For instance you can not push the talk switch and say "Set temperature to 21 degrees" or "set temperature warmer". No. You have to say "Climate" <pause> "temperature ## degrees". There is a whole frigging manual for it which you had better not be reading while you drive.

I am not sure QNX would fix that, but one thing is for sure - Microsoft has no idea how to handle it.

Touchscreens belong on Windows 8 boxes, not cars
By kep55 on 2/28/2014 7:41:29 PM , Rating: 2
Sooner or later the powers that be will realize how dangerous and stupid these touch screen systems in vehicles are. It's hard enough to use the touch screens on "smart phones" where you can at least look at the screen to make sure you're pressing the right spot. Maybe. There's a reason aircraft, trucks, locomotives, etc use buttons & dials. They're always in the same place, doing the same function every time. Let's see if anyone can tune their radio on a touch screen WITHOUT taking their eyes off the road.

By Monkey's Uncle on 3/2/2014 9:30:59 PM , Rating: 2
There's a reason aircraft , trucks, locomotives, etc use buttons & dials.


Let's see if anyone can tune their radio on a touch screen WITHOUT taking their eyes off the road.

No sweat. On my Focus I push the 'talk' button on the steering wheel and say "FM 107.7" or "Sirius 80s on 8". Eyes stay on the road.

The point is that while there is this big 8" LCD is there, but you don't have to use it.

Ford was the first?
By FurryOne on 2/28/2014 5:03:54 PM , Rating: 2
Ford was the first mass-market automaker to debut an infotainment system in the U.S.

Really? BMW iDrive... 2001, Ford Sync...2008. They only missed being the first by 7 years.

By kamiller422 on 3/3/2014 1:01:39 PM , Rating: 2
Android in the auto would be beautiful. A ton of developer support too.

By ndallari on 3/6/2014 2:43:09 PM , Rating: 2
They don't mention whether or not they can replace the current OS in existing models with the new QNX if they go ahead with the deal. Millions of cars and suvs are crap because of the windows OS. MS will never admit that the OS is crap just like they did with Vista. Ford has to bite the bullet and do the right thing and fix all of the cars they sold to people by installing new OS or just installing the basic system. Then they should sue MS for the crap they sold them and for lost profits and bad ratings.

I wanted to by a Ford Fusion without the infotainment system but I wanted AWD. You can't get AWD with out getting a Titanium. The Titanium is the premium model that only comes with the crappy infotainment system. If Ford wanted to salvage some profits they should just put the basic system in all of their models.

Button and knobs, buttons and knobs how i luv my buttons and knobs.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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