Microsoft’s New Focus on Automotive Apps, Cloud Services

By January 9, 2016 Automotive

Having Lost the Infotainment Battle, Microsoft is Focusing on Apps, Cloud Services

In my 2016 predictions, article, I made the point that in the ongoing battle for the car’s infotainment screen Microsoft has probably lost to Google, Apple and QNX. Five years ago, Microsoft’s software was driving Ford’s highly celebrated SYNC infotainment system.  SYNC was installed in 80% of new Ford vehicles and was responsible for rave reviews that contributed to J.D. Power ranking Ford fifth in its 2011 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS).  So successful was SYNC, that in celebration of one million SYNC vehicles produced, Ford CEO Alan Mullaly gave Microsoft’s Steve Balmer a new Ford Fusion Hybrid.

But that was in 2011.

Inspired by the success, Ford has charged ahead and launched a new infotainment system. The MyFord Touch became an overnight disaster. Customers complained about the complexity of the new system and that it would frequently freeze or crash, resulting in J.D. Power knocking Ford from fifth place to 23rd.

In late 2014, Ford dropped Microsoft and selected QNX from Balckberry to power its infotainment head unit.

But this doesn’t mean Microsoft has given up on the lucrative automotive market.

As cars are becoming more connected and running multitude of automotive-specific and general consumer applications, Microsoft’s plan is to provide apps, development tools and Azure cloud services on a range of platforms, from iPhone to connected cars and the integration of the two.

For instance, Nissan is already using the Microsoft Azure cloud to collect telematic data from connected cars. Last year, Volvo announced it will add Cortana voice control support to its Windows Phone app, and at CES 2016 the companies announced they will team to launch a wearable-enabled voice control system that will work with Microsoft’s Band 2.

These make sense. Connected cars and connected mobility ecosystem will become platforms running a host of built-in and brought-in applications to make consumers—both drivers and passengers—safer, more productive and have more fun experience. Will Microsoft stick with this strategy long enough and be able to compete with Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay? Over the years, Microsoft’s track record in establishing and sticking to a vertical industry strategy hasn’t been very good.