Automaker Ford confirmed on Monday that it will stop using Microsoft software for its in-car Sync system and move to a lower-cost and more familiar system based on QNX. This software, curiously owned by BlackBerry, also powers GM's OnStar in-car technology and is in about 50 percent of vehicles that have such systems.
Rumors that Ford was dumping Microsoft were reported first by Bloomberg, which noted that Ford and its customers had long struggled with the "in-car technology flaws" in Sync. Since new car buyers routinely cite in-car technology as a key draw, the lackluster reception to Sync was becoming troublesome. Reports from the trusted consumer advocates at Consumer Reports have been particularly scathing, describing Sync and an optional component called MyFord Touch as deeply flawed.
Problems with Sync are so bad that Ford's overall reliability ratings have plummeted in recent years. Ford at one point even mailed software updates on USB flash drives to its customers. However, Ford noted this week that the reliability issues with Sync and MyFord Touch are not the fault of Microsoft's underlying software platform, which is a version of Windows Embedded Automotive.
Sync is installed in more than 7 million vehicles around the world, Ford says. First rolled out in 2007, Sync comprises a somewhat bewildering array of options that vary from vehicle to vehicle and include Sync, Sync with voice-activated navigation, Sync with MyFord, and Sync with MyFord Touch. The systems all support voice control of smartphone calls, voice-activated music search, Bluetooth audio streaming from devices, 911 Assist, and other related features.
As for QNX, this software has followed a circuitous path. Essentially a UNIX-like OS that has morphed significantly over the years, QNX was ultimately purchased by RIM (now BlackBerry) in 2010 so that the firm could acquire a more capable platform for its first tablet, the PlayBook, and for a subsequent generation of smartphones that would be marketed as BlackBerry 10.
Neither of these projects was successful, but since BlackBerry still owns QNX, it will benefit from Ford's adoption. Ford also apparently considered software based on Google Android—see "Android's Next Battlefield: The Automobile" for more information—but because its suppliers are so familiar with QNX thanks to its use by GM and other automakers such as Acura, Audi, Honda, Hyundai, Porsche, and Volkswagen, that option made the most sense. QNX currently controls about 50 percent of the in-car technology market.