It was a big week in the consumer space for Microsoft, with announcements ranging from a new Zune HD device to technology for Ford's upcoming line of electric vehicles.
On March 31, Microsoft and Ford helped open the New York International Auto Show by announcing a partnership that will allow owners of the Detroit auto maker's future electric cars to leverage Microsoft Hohm, a cloud-based energy-management tool, in order to determine the optimal times and places to plug in their vehicles. Ford plans to "electrify our platforms" over the next few years, according to CEO Alan Mulally, who told the audience assembled in Manhattan's massive Jacob K. Javits Center that his company will release five new hybrid vehicles into the market by 2012.
In addition to using Hohm for electric vehicles starting sometime in 2011, Ford has also integrated the Microsoft-designed SmartGuide with EcoGuide into its upcoming Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, allowing drivers to determine (and, presumably, adjust) the long-term fuel efficiency of their vehicles.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appeared via giant video screen during the press conference to talk about Hohm, including how it apparently saves customers an "average of 10 percent" on their utility bills. He also cited how the use of Hohm within the context of electric vehicles would provide tangible benefits not only for consumers, who would save money by charging their cars during off-peak hours, but also utility companies, which could use the aggregated data from users to best determine how to adjust the power grid to handle ramped-up demand.
Hohm's analytics are licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy. The software, accessible through any Web browser, asks users to input their e-mail and postal code, followed by a series of questions meant to paint an accurate picture of their home energy expenditures ("What type of energy does your water heater use?" is an example). Based on that data, Hohm then offers recommendations designed to save money and power, along with an estimated cost breakdown. Microsoft has also signed deals with utility companies to use the data from Hohm to make power transmission more efficient.
Released in July 2009, Hohm joins the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX as part of the company's larger green IT initiatives. Microsoft's competition in that particular area includes Google's PowerMeter software tool, which measures home energy consumption using "smart" metering devices installed by utilities.
On the smaller side of things, Microsoft announced a Zune HD 64GB, slated to arrive on its ZuneOriginals.com Website April 12. Retailing for $349.99, the device joins the Zune HD 16GB and Zune HD 32GB-whose prices have been lowered by $20 to $199.99 and $269.99-in Microsoft's line of portable media devices meant to compete with Apple's iPod franchise. Microsoft plans on pushing out a Zune firmware update, labeled 4.5, with features such as Smart DJ and expanded video codec support. Although the Zune HD device lags in market share behind the iPod, the porting of Zune software onto Windows Phone 7 Series devices by the end of the year opens the door to the company gaining some traction in that arena.