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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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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.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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