Add cars to Microsoft's vision of bringing Windows into the burgeoning market for the Internet of things.
As the term suggests, the Internet of things (IoT) describes a network of devices and sensors, plus the IT services required to support them. Gartner predicts that by 2020, the IoT will encompass 26 billion devices, each pumping data through the Internet.
IoT even has its own consortium, comprising Intel, IBM, AT&T, Cisco Systems, General Electric and the U.S. government. Called the Industrial Internet Consortium, the group aims to forge IoT standards to spur cooperation among device manufacturers and network operators.
Now Microsoft joins the list of tech companies that are bullish on the IoT.
In a session at the Build developer's conference last week, Steve Teixeira, director of Program Management in Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, showed off some of the progress his company is making in fashioning its Windows technology into an IoT platform. Arguing that "Moore's Law is just relentlessly marching on," leading to ever-smaller computers, the IoT represents a big opportunity for tech companies.
Citing IDC figures, Teixeira said the estimated market size for the IoT is currently $1.7 trillion. Of that, the automotive and transportation industry will generate $7 billion, according to a slide he presented.
After demonstrating Netduino, an open-source small electronics platform based on Visual Studio-friendly .Net Micro Framework, Teixeira revealed Microsoft's answer to Apple's CarPlay product. CarPlay, which bears a striking similarity to the iOS mobile operating system that powers Apple's iPhone and iPad, will provide integrated services that blur the line between cars and smartphones in Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles.
Microsoft, no stranger to in-car tech with Windows CE and Embedded Automotive offerings such as Ford Sync, showed off its own mobile OS-inspired solution for connected vehicles. "We are going to add a brought-in device approach to our strategy," said Teixeira. The company is working "to create a world where I can bring my Windows device into my vehicle. ... I can kind of jack-in, and I can get a projection of what's going on in my phone up on the on-vehicle IVI [in-vehicle infotainment system]," he said.
Utilizing the MirrorLink standard from the Car Connectivity Consortium, Microsoft aims to deliver a low-distraction experience that evolves with the current state of mobile technology, even if a car's infotainment system is more than a few years old.
During a demo, Teixeira showed off a minimalist interface that resembles the tiled screens on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The technology would be open to app developers, he indicated, as mockups for apps such as Spotify, Pandora and Audible filled the concept UI. As expected, it can also place calls, display navigational aids and play back music.
Despite existing as a concept at this stage, Teixeira said it is something Microsoft is "working very, very seriously on so that [we] can bring the best of these two worlds—the IVI and my brought-in Windows device—together."