Tool Around With Microsoft, Ford

Microsoft  and Ford  unveiled an
in-car system called Sync that lets customers access a variety of digital
products, such as cell phones, handheld computers, portable music players
and other USB-based storage devices.

The product, based on Microsoft Auto software, allows customers to use voice
commands for accessing contacts and performing other functions. Ford’s
contributions to the mobile application include a dashboard for visualizing
connected devices and buttons built into the steering wheel for so-called
hands-free access.

The application will also convert text messages received by the phones into
audio files to which users can listen so they can keep their eyes on the

Ford Sync

Communication on the road.

Source: Ford

Bill Gates alluded to the unique challenge of developing technology
for in-car use during his keynote
address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“The car is special. If you want to deliver [functionality] to the driver,
you have to think of incredibly simple commands,” he said.

Although the application is being introduced at an event intended to spur
interest among consumers, Microsoft is also aggressively courting the mobile
workforce, particularly as the race for
unified communications heats up.

Prasad Venkatesh, group and technical leader with Ford’s infotronics
research and advanced engineering department, noted that Sync could be the
first step toward giving cars enterprise-class business functions.

“The computing and communication capability of tomorrow’s automobile might
begin to approach what’s available in our networked office environment
today,” he said in a statement.

The system will be made available in 12 different high-end Ford models
during the 2007 calendar year, and will be expanded to all Ford model cars
and trucks “in the near future,” said Ford.

According to Ptak Noel & Associates analyst Simon Forge, however, the market
may not be as ready for Sync as Microsoft and Ford expect.

He noted that in-car navigation systems took a lot longer than expected to
gain traction, and said users may be swayed by studies demonstrating the
inherent dangers in these type of applications.

“There are problems with any form of mobile communication from cars,” he told “When
you’re driving, you’re actually distracted, and there are reports showing
that your vision is actually affected by concentrating other things.”

But this isn’t slowing anyone down. Yahoo and Dash Navigation, which last week announced that they will introduce an in-car search application this spring, face the same adoption conundrum. They have to hope that consumers latch onto car technology of this kind.

“The marketing people have gone mad,” Forge said. “But whether the public will as well
remains to be seen.”

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