Ford dumps Microsoft for QNX, unleashes new functions in Sync v3

Ford also upgraded its Nuance voice-recognition technology to be more conversational

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After numerous reports indicated almost a year ago that Ford would do it, the carmaker announced this week that it has moved from Microsoft for Blackberry's QNX OS for its in-vehicle infotainment system known as Sync.

Like other infotainment systems, Sync allows users to make hands-free telephone calls, control music choices and perform other functions with the use of voice commands. Ford's Sync head unit also upgraded to the latest Texas Instruments OMAP 5 processor.

sync 3 home screen Ford

Ford's Sync 3 home screen

As with Ford's announcement about the new Sync rollout,Ford spokesperson Alan Hall declined to say why the automaker chose QNX over Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive OS for its third-generation product.

Negative press and feedback and criticism from Consumer Reports likely spurred Ford rethink its choices, said Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski.

"Having that automotive expertise and understanding the programs they have in place, how they work from an engineering perspective, the UI and getting applications into the head unit makes QNX very strong," Koslowski said in an earlier interview with Computerworld.

Ford's Sync IVI system has never been recommended by Consumer Reports magazine.

By turning to the open-source QNX platform, Ford gets a full community of developers to support and update the software. QNX also supports the ubiquitous HTML5 markup language and other native user interface toolsets.

Before being purchased by Blackberry in 2010, QNX Software Systems was owned by audio and infotainment equipment company Harman International. It's been used in more than 200 different car models, so it has been well vetted.

Ford's third generation, QNX-supported Sync uses a more natural language speech-recognition technology from Nuance, according to Hall.

"What we did with the data set was allow it to use a more conversational way that you'd refer to something. So P.F. Chang's is how you'd refer to the restaurant, but the official name of the restaurant is P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro. In the past, you had to know the official name for the system to be able to find it," Hall said. "That wasn't very helpful because no one calls it P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro."

Ford also added more conversational voice controls for music players connected to the IVI through a vehicle's USB port. For example, all a driver needs say is "play," and simply follow that command with the song's artist, genre or album. Previously, users had to say "play artist" and then the name, or "play song" and then the song's name.

Users can also switch between audio sources with a single word command. For example, there's no longer a need to say "Sirius" or "FM". Drivers merely need to say "95.5" and it will tune to the FM station, or say "Classic Rock" and it will automatically tune to that station on Sirius.

Previous generations of Ford's Sync system suffered from poor voice recognition and  required that exact business names and addresses be used in order enable vehicle navigation.

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