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Ford Drops Microsoft, Will Build Next Infotainment Systems Using Blackberry. Wait, What?

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Ford SYNC preset text messaging responses

Ford SYNC preset text messaging responses

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If you love your Ford but hate Ford Sync, listen up: according to Detroit News, Ford may soon ditch the Microsoft platform that underlies Sync and migrate to a new, more stable system.   

SYNC: THEN AND NOW

When Microsoft first partnered with Ford to build infotainment systems for cars, Bill Gates was still a full-time employee, and Microsoft was a proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the tech industry. Now, not so much.

Over the past several years, Microsoft has lost much of its edge, thanks to (a) mass migration to cloud-based software, (b) renewed popularity of Apple computers (not to mention Chromebooks and other alternatives), (c) Microsoft's deeply despised Windows 8 operating system, and (d) its deeply disappointing Surface tablets. Heck, even Nokia -- which will soon be partly owned by Microsoft -- is trying to back away from the Windows Mobile operating system. At this point, the only area in which Microsoft remains a bona fide leader is in console gaming, and with the release of the Sony PS4, even that's in jeopardy.

Given Microsoft's growing obsolescence, it's no surprise that one of its best-known offerings for cars -- Ford Sync -- has been a dismal failure. (Popular, yes, but a failure.) Paired with MyFord Touch, Sync is largely responsible for Ford's steep decline in initial quality rankings

And so, Ford appears to be drafting a "Dear John" letter, addressed to Redmond. Detroit News cites someone with "knowledge" of Ford's tech plans, who says that in the near future, Ford will kick Microsoft to the curb and build its next-gen infotainment systems with younger, nimbler company: Blackberry.

Wait, what?

Yes, Blackberry. (It exists. Who knew?) If the rumors are true, Ford will rebuild Sync on the QNX platform, which is owned by Blackberry. The source suggests that an update to Sync could migrate existing models from Microsoft to QNX very quickly and easily.

QNX is popular with developers and handset makers because of the way it's designed. While most operating systems work as one big program, QNX simultaneously runs a range of parallel processes. In layman's terms, that means that if QNX encounters a problem, it only has to shut down one app or program, rather than the entire operating system. As a result, it's faster than many operating systems, and its more stable and lightweight, too. (Want to know more? Click here.)

Neither Ford nor Blackberry would deny the rumor, which would seem to give it some substance. If accurate, the changeover could happen this year or next.

OUR TAKE

This is an intriguing development, and it could give Ford programmers a lot more latitude in what they code and how quickly they issue updates.

Unfortunately, shifting to QNX won't solve the Sync's two biggest problems:

  • The user interface: Until Ford streamlines and simplifies Sync's interface, it'll continue to disappoint and frustrate Ford owners. Thankfully, there are many UI experts today who can balance intuitive design with superior functionality. (Though please, Ford, not this guy.)
  • User familiarity with Android and iOS. The vast majority of phones and tablets sold in the U.S. rely on those two operating systems, both of which are making inroads on automobile dashboards. Why has Ford chosen QNX and not the popular kids? Does it know something we don't know? Or does it just have a soft spot for underdogs?

The good news is, given how much consumers seem to despise Sync, there's almost no place for Ford to go but up.

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