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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 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.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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