Is it too late for Microsoft to establish a position in the smart car market?

In February, 2014, Ford announced its decision to terminate work on the Sync automobile mobile device controller system, which was a joint effort with Microsoft. Nonetheless, Microsoft has continued to aggressively compete for a share of the smart car market.

The work on the automobile segment of the mobile computing experience looks to be the province for Windows Embedded team and can be reviewed on a web site titled Connected Car Technology: Driving Innovation. The latest version of Windows Embedded, for this application, is Windows Embedded Automotive 7, which appears to be the same version included in the Sync project.

This writer has an interest in the other end of the mobile computing experience for consumers: how smart phones perform in vehicles. We own both Android and Windows Phone 8.1 devices and have recently tested both devices in a 2012 Acura TSX with the factory installed HandsfreeLink wireless mobile telephone voice control system.

We should also note we first tested just how Windows Phone devices performed with the system with Windows Phone 8. These early tests were very unproductive, especially with Nokia’s Here Maps app. The bluetooth audio control on the smart phone end of the connection was not synchronized with the HandsfreeLink system.

The result was what can only be referred to as an unsatisfactory experience for the driver. The HandsfreeLink computer voice system would consistently cut off the directions just short of presenting the driver with a very important piece of information, namely the street name where an approaching turn would need to be made.

With Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft has corrected the computer voice problem. The audio messaging from the Windows Phone 8.1 Lumia 925 correctly synchronizes with the HandsfreeLink system and the Here maps program is, once again, a useful feature in our Acura.

But Cortana is, sadly to say, another story entirely. We cannot use Cortana while driving. Any attempt to pose questions in the vehicle, while in transit, is handled by HandsfreeLink (actually, in this writer’s opinion, this is a very good feature if, for no other reason, than how it forces drivers to use the hands free option and dispense with holding a cellular device to the ear while driving). But, once again, the audio messaging has NOT been synchronized. The conversation is cut off before the question can be delivered to the Cortana personal assistant.

Tellingly, one of Acura’s ads for its new TLX features a male driver commanding “Siri” to play a tune on the in-dash entertainment system. Acura is likely not alone in its decision to support the most popular mobile O/S, namely iOS in its vehicles. Perhaps Microsoft would do better to pass on the in-car mobile computing market altogether, unless they plan on releasing a really big new feature (hope hope).

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


A Good Week for Blackberry in the Media

Blackberry’s QNX OS scored a big win at Ford this week. If readers have yet to catch up with this news, they can read about it in an article written by Craig Trudell and Jeff Green, which was published on the Bloomberg web site on Monday, February 24, 2014: BlackBerry Gains as Ford Said to Pick QNX Over Microsoft. At the same time, the volume of articles written about facebook’s controversial $19Bil acquisition of WhatsApp, engulfed Blackberry’s Messenger (BBM) service. All this news amounts to a positive sign CEO John Chen is succeeding in his attempt to resuscitate this mature ISV.

What’s different about Blackberry’s BBM service, as compared to WhatsASpp, is not at all the feature set, but the installed base of users. BBM users are predominantly people employed by large organizations in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. So the monetary value represented by the BBM user community may actually be greater than the same value metric for WhatsApp users, despite the annual subscription opportunity and the enormous numbers of WhatsApp users. Bottom line: teenagers lack the buying power of enterprise business users.

As far as the win at Ford for the QNX OS, put this one on top of the role the QNX OS played for Audi’s Infotainment system and I get the feel of momentum building for further sales of this feature-rich smart car OS. QNX has been at the smart car business for quite a while and presents the market with a particularly rich set of features.

Speaking of Audi’s Infotainment system, another company of recent strong interest to me, NVIDIA, is also playing a part in the architecture of Audi’s Smart Car feature set. In a press release dated January 7, 2013, and titled Audi and NVIDIA Expand Visual Computing in the Car, NVIDIA announces a big win at Audi. Curiously, the win for NVIDIA promises to displace the QNX driven Infotainment system.

Disclaimer: I’m long NVIDIA and Blackberry

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved