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Ford to dump Microsoft's 'aggravating' in-car tech for ... BlackBerry?

Out with Windows Embedded, in with QNX, report claims

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Ford Motor Company will part ways with Microsoft for the next generation of its Sync in-car infotainment system in favor of technology from Canadian rival BlackBerry, sources claim.

According to a report by Bloomberg, switching from Windows Embedded Automotive to BlackBerry's QNX real-time OS will both save Ford money and improve the flexibility and speed of its in-car systems.

Hopefully, the shift will also help Ford deliver an infotainment system that customers actually want.

Ford launched MyFord Touch, the second generation of its Sync tech, in August 2010. A year later, Ford's position in the JD Power & Associates Initial Quality Survey had plummeted from 5th place to 23rd, attributed mainly to the perceived poor quality of the automaker's in-car systems.

Consumer Reports called that first iteration of MyFord Touch "aggravating," and later revisions to the tech failed to impress the product ranking outfit. A 2012 Consumer Reports blog post described the system with such phrases as "poorly designed," "maddeningly fussy," "time consuming and cumbersome," and "distracting to use while you're driving."

More worrying, Ford's in-car tech often just doesn't work. In 2013, the automaker became the target of a class-action lawsuit filed in California by the nonprofit Center for Defensive Driving, which alleged, "Many vehicle owners complain that, among other things, the system freezes up, stops working, the screen 'blacks out,' the system fails to respond to touch commands, and fails to connect to the user's mobile phone."

Lest that last point sound frivolous, many US states have enacted laws banning the use of mobile phones in vehicles except via hands-free technology.

Ford developed Sync/MyFord Touch in partnership with Microsoft beginning in 2005, and Redmond describes Ford as the "first automaker to deploy an immersive, in-car infotainment system."

Since launching Sync in 2007, Ford has remained the largest customer of Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive platform. The software giant's other customers – BMW, Fiat, Kia, and Nissan – have all deployed the tech in less ambitious ways.

BlackBerry's QNX division, meanwhile, has a thriving business in the automotive sector, with customers including Acura, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Daewoo, GM, Hyundai, Land Rover, Porsche, Renault Samsung, and Saab. Analysts estimate QNX's market penetration as high as 70 per cent.

A venerable real-time operating system, the lean, lightweight QNX has been used in a wide range of embedded systems since the early 1980s. Its original developer, Kanata, Ontario–based QNX Software Systems, was acquired by BlackBerry for $200m in 2010 under then-co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.

We didn't hear much about QNX during Thorsten Heins' tenure as BlackBerry CEO, except that it formed the basis of the ill-fated BlackBerry 10 platform. But shortly after current chief exec John Chen was brought in to rescue the Canadian firm from the brink of insolvency, he said QNX "has always been one of our most exciting technologies."

It's telling when a company's original core business is apparently not as "exciting" as a technology it bought less than four years ago. But with BlackBerry's smartphone business now circling calling for help from inside the drain, QNX may yet emerge alongside the company's messaging and mobile device management software as one of its most important products.

Bloomberg's sources did not disclose the value of BlackBerry's deal with Ford, and BlackBerry, Ford, and Microsoft all declined to comment. ®

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