Ford Drops Microsoft for BlackBerry OS for Premium Infotainment System

Ford's entry-level Sync in-vehicle communications system still remains Microsoft-based, but its new Sync 3 next-gen premium upgrade touch-screen system will run on BlackBerry's QNX in-vehicle OS.

Ford Sync

Ford is moving its next-generation, upgraded Sync in-vehicle infotainment system—now called Sync 3—away from a Microsoft platform to BlackBerry's QNX in-vehicle operating system, starting with its 2016 vehicles.

The move was confirmed by a Ford spokesman in an interview with eWEEK following the company's Dec. 11 announcement of its optional new Sync 3 system. Sync 3 will replace Ford's previous top-of-the-line infotainment system upgrade, which was known as MyFord Touch and included a touch screen and myriad premium features compared with the Bluetooth-enabled base Sync systems. The base-level Sync system without a touch screen will remain standard equipment in all Ford vehicles and will continue to run on Microsoft operating systems.

Alan Hall, Ford's technology communications manager, told eWEEK that the upgraded new BlackBerry-based Sync 3 system is being unveiled to better meet the needs of the latest mobile devices and of Ford's customers.

"We are launching a new generation of Sync because the technology of consumer devices has changed so much and customer expectation have changed," he said. "We're launching more advanced technology to keep up with what consumers are doing."

Ford introduced the original versions of Sync back in 2007, and upgraded them later with second-generation versions, said Hall.

Over the years, some consumers criticized the MyFord Touch premium-level product as having technical glitches that interfered with its functions and performance. In fairness, other vehicle brands including BMW also heard criticisms about their own in-vehicle infotainment systems because of the formidable technical challenges the systems can create.

Hall, however, denied that the move away from Microsoft in the new optional Sync 3 system is being made because of such criticisms. Instead, he said, the shift in operating systems is being made after a customer-centric review of feedback from more than 22,000 customers who wanted to see changes and improvements that would make their use of such systems easier.

"For the third generation of Sync, based on defining the feature sets that we wanted, [BlackBerry] QNX was the operating system that we wanted for the platform," said Hall. "We spent a significant amount of time with our users to see how they interact with the systems and how they seek content. That was the basis for moving to Sync 3."

Some 10 million Ford vehicles on the roads today have some form of earlier Sync systems, he said. Ford will continue to support all earlier versions, including the first two generations of the base Sync systems and the MyFord Touch systems, even after the latest Sync 3 systems hit the roads.

Sync 3 will be available as an extra-cost option in some vehicles as the first 2016 models roll out, and it is expected to be available as an option in all 2017 model Ford cars and trucks by the end of 2016, according to Hall.

The new Sync 3 system will include faster performance, more conversational voice recognition, deeper hands-free capabilities, an all-new more intuitive touch screen and an easier-to-understand graphical interface to make it simpler for Ford drivers to connect their vehicles to their smartphones, according to the company.

Also included in the next-generation Sync 3 system is a Siri "Eyes-Free" capability for iPhone users, over-the-air software updates using WiFi and a subscription-free enhanced "911 Assist" feature that lets drivers make some kinds of emergency calls after a significant crash or incident.

"Ford is delivering an easier way for customers to stay connected," Raj Nair, Ford's chief technical officer, said in a statement. "Sync 3 is another step forward in delivering connectivity features customers most want, and they tell us this kind of technology is an important part of their decision to buy our vehicles."

Quicker response to touch as well as voice commands and smartphone-like gestures, including pinch-to-zoom and swipe, are central to Sync 3, according to Ford.

"We considered all the modern smartphones and mobile operating systems and created something familiar but unique," Parrish Hanna, Ford's global director of human machine interface systems, said in a statement. "Simplicity has value. Reducing the number of things on-screen also makes control easier and is designed to limit the number of times a driver has to glance at the screen."