Ford recently announced the 3rd generation of its SYNC solution, first launched in 2007. While most observers are focusing on the Windows (Microsoft) to QNX (Blackberry) operating system software switch, some other major hardware changes were introduced by Ford to boost the lackluster performance of the abandoned MyFord Touch:
- Freescale’s i.MX51 600MHz processor is replaced by TI’s 1.7GHz OMAP 5 SoC resulting in much improved responsiveness
- 8 inch high contrast capacitive touchscreen allowing smartphone-like swipe and pinch movements
Furthermore, only some minor other changes and improvements were applied, such as conversational voice recognition capabilities, a Siri Eyes-Free control steering wheel button, a simplified, more intuitive user interface, and Wi-Fi-based over-the-air software updates. The first SYNC 3 -equipped vehicles will hit the road in 2015 with all models upgraded by the end of 2016.
So, all in all, no major innovations, this was really about fixing existing issues, something the automotive industry is all too aware of and getting used to in the midst of the current recall calamity.
However, it was relevant to hear Ford announce future support for both Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android auto, coexisting with Ford’s own AppLink framework. Ford continues to believe there is a future for a car OEM’s own, proprietary application framework (following failed attempts to have AppLink adopted by other car OEMs), allowing deeper in-vehicle integration and living next to CE standards mainly centered around shallow, audio infotainment-type applications, delivering the long tail of consumer needs.
Perhaps the most relevant conclusions to be drawn from this modest SYNC upgrade are the much reduced ambitions of car manufacturers in the automotive infotainment space. Fixing the basics while acknowledging the inevitability of the arrival of mobile smartphone integration standards now seems to be accepted wisdom, isn’t it GM?
At the same time, it also somewhat confirms, for the time being, the failure of next-generation, open-source automotive operating system software platforms such as Linux, GENIVI, and even Android with Ford winding back to the tried and tested QNX. Also, for a change, it’s nice to see the tormented Blackberry enjoying a major success.
For the automotive industry, it is now time to move on from the distraction of trying to build their own independent infotainment and application frameworks, to the much more urgent and important challenge of using connectivity (and other technologies) for vehicle- and transportation centric use cases. Think diagnostics, CRM, big data, active safety and cooperative systems, advanced user interfaces, car sharing, and autonomous driving modes.
I can’t help thinking there is a heavy burden falling off the shoulders of the automotive industry, handing over to or at least sharing with Apple and Google the responsibility for bringing apps to the car, and finally able to go back to what they are best at: core vehicle systems, features, and services.