Ford: We're "Not Married to Microsoft" for Sync Gen. 3
February 27, 2014 3:56 PM
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
) QNX unit would be displacing Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows Embedded Automotive operating system from America's second largest automaker, Ford Motor Comp. (
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 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. (
) (the top American automaker), Chrysler (a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat SpA (
) and the #3 American automaker), Honda Motor Comp., Ltd. (
Hyundai Motor Comp. (
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?
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.
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 (
) 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
an identical system for the Lincoln luxury brand, MyLincoln Touch
. The systems have been plagued with problems
, freezing, as well as
overarching problems like design
. 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
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.
"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007
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