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Ford tackles Sync's reliability issues as connected car's importance grows

Ford is reportedly switching from a Microsoft-based system to BlackBerry?s QNX system to improve its in-car Sync technology.

According to reports, Ford?s current Sync technology has a few flaws in it and does not always work for consumers, which is why the automaker may now be looking to switch to BlackBerry?s QNX-based operating system. With the connected car playing a bigger role for marketers nowadays, the deal highlights the growing challenges for automakers in creating seamless in-car experiences.

?The problem with Ford Sync is that it?s been having bad publicity in terms of reliability and functionality, and I think that?s basically the reason behind this change from Microsoft to QNX,? said Gareth Owen, London-based principal analyst at ABI Research. ?[QNX] is really the expert and the big player in developing operating systems for car entertainment systems.

?So what this brings to Ford is performance, reliability and resilience, so you have an in-car experience so that when someone uses it, it does what it?s supposed to do  ? it doesn?t freeze, it doesn?t cause frustration for consumers,? he said.

Mr. Owen is not affiliated with Ford. He spoke based on his expertise on the subject. 

Ford did not respond to press inquiries. 

Fueling up on mobile
QNX develops the software for the in-dash experiences and controls close to 50 to 60 percent of the market, according to Mr. Owen.

The BlackBerry operating system also has a number of automakers already using its technology, including BMW and Mercedes. 

Ford Sync claims to be enabled in more than seven million vehicles, allowing consumers to play music, access information or make phone calls through voice activation while driving.

The in-car experience is playing an especially important role for Ford in connecting with consumers for both entertainment and safety content while in the car.

Wearables are also a growing trend that the automotive industry has taken to.

In fact, recent findings from ABI Research predicts that by 2019, 90 percent of vehicles will ship with wearable technology (see story). 

There has also been an increase in brand interest with Ford Sync in the past few years as marketers look beyond on-device experiences to connect with consumers through mobile technology.

Pandora, Domino?s and Wall Street Journal are all apps that are voice-activated for Ford Sync drivers.

However, all of these applications will run on QNX, and moving from Microsoft will not be an issue for marketers, according to Mr. Owen.

Growing competition
Both QNX and Microsoft are proprietary in-car systems.

However, there are a number of smaller open code-based systems that are gaining interest from automakers.

For example, Google announced an open automotive alliance in January to develop a platform for in-car experiences with Audi and GM already on board.

Additionally, Genivi is an open source initiative to enable in-car experiences.

The growth in these platforms could be a threat for both QNX and Microsoft going forward.

At the same time though, QNX has a proven track record working with automakers.

?QNX's proven track record serving industries that require secure device management is a major asset for auto OEMs that utilize its platform due to concerns at each the consumer, enterprise and regulatory levels,? said Ryan Martin, associate analyst at Yankee Group, Boston. ?HTML5 support and cross-platform mobile development capabilities further solidify the attraction behind the partnership.

?For Ford specifically, it could also mean considerable leverage with regard to price due to vehicle production volumes,? he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York