Microsofts Muscle Cars
Microsofts embedded group showed a number of its design wins of the past few months. It was interesting to note the number of booth visitors who arrived bearing products of which Microsoft was apparently unaware. These offerings included handheld computers running embedded Windows CE rather then the full-blown Microsoft Mobile platform. The handhelds came from a number of manufacturers and were mostly aimed at vertical industries that need devices to read meters, or scan bar codes, or do specific kinds of testing. The apparent value proposition: For a fraction of the cost to develop the base platform needed for a device to connect easily with other systems, the manufacturer can license embedded CE from Microsoft and cut monthsif not yearsfrom its development time. I spoke to several companies that had chosen the Microsoft embedded platform and asked why theyd opted for Microsoft and not Linux. Time to market, market acceptance, and no real desire to do the plumbing work were the answers.Speaking of future automotive technology, Intel was the only vendor that seemed to understand that the future wired home would include the car. In his keynote presentation, spoke of Omnifi (the only company that currently offers a product that installs in the car and synchronizes files via Wi-Fi when the vehicle is in the garage). Intel was also showcased design wins for its next-generation Centrino platform, which will be more powerful and support 802.11g wireless. One of the more interesting technologies at CES was the iBiz virtual keyboard. iBiz projects the keyboard on a countertop, but the product clearly needed work; it took me nearly five minutes to enter one line without errors. The idea is sure attractive, though: With a device about the size of a large lighter, you get a full size keyboard. Heres hoping the company can get it to work. Finally, Premier GPS demonstrated a comprehensive mobile automotive system based on the VIA Mini-ITX platform. This product, currently under trial by schools in North America, allows school buses not only to be tracked but to broadcast video of the inside of the bus so concerned parents can watch their young commuters over the Internet. School officials can also observe and make sure that the safety of children is not compromised. The genesis of the product is especially impressive: Evidently, one of the executives just bought a VIA board at a retail store, took it back to the Premier GPS labs and in a short time had mocked up the product. (This sort of process can often take years.) I expect these small, low-cost, portable PCs will become tremendously important as an enabler going forward. Ive only scratched the surface of an incredible wealth of technology, much of which will be released for back-to-school budgets. Fortunately, this gives my wife at least eight weeks to find a secure place to hide my wallet! Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.
Microsoft also showcased the current iteration of its automotive platform in a custom Hummer. The system drew heavily on voice commands to move between modes, including navigation and entertainment controls. Notably, while Microsofts automotive technology has enjoyed a number of design wins in Europe and Asia, no U.S. automaker has picked it up for domestic production. One problem: Fewer and fewer cars will accept aftermarket technology; its increasingly likely that customers will buy a car expecting its technology to remain current only to find in a few short months that it is obsolete and beyond the reach of cost-effective updates. Since users may want to tap the potential of stronger automotive transceivers to keep in touch with their offices, this obstacle could become a problem for its adopters.