Ford Sync 3 to Extend BlackBerry's Reach in Connected-Car Systems

NEWS ANALYSIS: Ford Motor Company begins replacing the Microsoft-based Sync system with BlackBerry's offering, which is already a success in cars ranging from Toyota to BMW.

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The Ford Motor Company has been struggling to get its Microsoft–based Sync system, which handles everything from voice recognition to navigation to running the stereo, to work properly.

The Microsoft system has been in use at the company since 2007, and during that period, the company has faced everything from poor Consumer Reports grades to derision from car magazines and complaints from owners. Now, finally, Ford has decided to begin divorce proceedings.

Starting with the 2016 model year, Ford will start using a new infotainment system made by Panasonic and containing computers running BlackBerry's QNX. This is hardly a first for BlackBerry, which holds a dominant position in the embedded systems market in the automotive industry. Those Fords with Sync 3 will start arriving at dealers in late 2015.

One of the things I noticed last March while I was at CeBIT was that the computers in most of the cars I closely examined bore BlackBerry and QNX logos on them. What was interesting at the time and perhaps even more interesting now is that car phone integration was nearly seamless in them. Voice recognition was vastly better than on other cars. At the time, I wondered if there was a way to perform a brain transplant on my Acura, where speech recognition was a challenge on a good day.

Most people don't realize it, but BlackBerry has been around the automotive market for years, providing the computers and the QNX operating system for most of the German automakers including BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz. QNX is also running on GM's OnStar communications system and in computers on Chrysler, Hyundai, Jaguar and Land Rover.

But what's probably more important to the people who buy the cars is that BlackBerry has been a partner with Apple in creating CarPlay and with Google to create Android Auto, both of which will be available on the Sync 3. The system will also work with Siri Eyes Free and as a result can interface directly with Siri for doing things like looking up restaurants.

Users of those smartphones will able to see familiar icons on the center screen of their cars, and they'll be able to run some of the apps via the car's interface. No word yet on whether Ford's AppLink, which is the software that links Sync 3 to mobile phones, will be this well-integrated with its own BlackBerry 10 OS on new BlackBerry smartphones.

The new Sync 3 software uses a touch screen on the car, and it allows multitouch gestures, which means you can spread your fingers to enlarge an image or pinch to make an image smaller, just like on your smartphone.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...