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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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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.

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