Microsoft Reaffirms Telematics Interests

The firm introduces a Web services- and Bluetooth-oriented version of its software platform for motor vehicles.
Microsoft reaffirmed its interest in taking its software to motor vehicles Monday with the launch of the fifth version of its platform for automotive suppliers and manufacturers, which would make communication hands-free in the car.

Based on the Redmond, Wash. concern's embedded systems Windows CE .NET 4.2, Windows Automotive 4.2 will pipe real-time weather alerts, driving directions and other information over in-car computing devices. This package features native support for support voice- and data-enabled Bluetooth and the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework.

The software will make communication hand-free for drivers and passengers, a potentially lucrative feature in a time when fear of device-induced traffic accidents is causing legislators to look carefully at banning the use of cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) for drivers while their on the road. New York already has a law against in-transit cell phone use.

And a number of people use the distracting devices in their cars. Microsoft conducted a study that found that 85 percent of U.S. cell phone owners use their cell phone and 50 percent of PDA owners use their PDAs while in the car.

Instat/MDR said revenues from telematics hardware and subscriptions to Web-based telematics services will rise to almost $12 billion by 2006, with a compound annual growth rate of 66 percent. The research firm said the growth rate for Internet-based telematics subscribers will spike in 2004, as telematics services will be offered in an increasing number of vehicles and as consumer awareness of service benefits grows. In-Stat/MDR analyst Cindy Wolf said the telematics market is fragmented.

"All players in the telematics industry face opportunities and challenges as they attempt to deliver convenience services to vehicles for which consumers are willing to pay," said Wolf. "The opportunities for new revenue streams from airtime minutes, service subscriptions, and content delivery are confronted by the challenges of integrating diverse technologies in a timely manner and in an affordable package."

Wolf further said no single company has the know-how, or the technology to develop and offer a complete telematics solution by itself, but that partnering with firms that have the missing ingredients -- be they hardware, software or services -- will be critical.

"Working with industry partners, we can continue to bridge the connectivity gap and develop safe, reliable, advanced in-car communication systems that will enable consumers to use their drive time wisely and bring new revenue streams to automakers," said Dick Brass, vice president of technology development who is charged with the oversight of automotive efforts at Microsoft.

Windows Automotive 4.2 supports Bluetooth version 1.1 and IEEE 802.11 and 802.1x. The platform also gets its multimedia punch and Web browsing with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 for Windows CE. Hands-free communication is made possible by Microsoft's Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI) 5.0, as well as developer tools and driver distraction controls to help ensure telematics functionality does not interfere with drivers' concentration.

A number of firms have stepped up to support Microsoft in its latest telematics endeavor. They include Brass, DaimlerChrysler, BMW AG, Fiat, Citroen, Volkswagen, PAG, General Motors Corp. and others, all of whom carry Microsoft software in certain models of their vehicles.

Microsoft is also working with more than 30 automotive suppliers around the world to build telematics systems, many of which will include the hardware, software and services for both the embedded and aftermarkets. These suppliers include Clarion Co. Ltd., Denso Corp., Kenwood Corp., SANYO Multimedia Tottori Co. Ltd. and Yazaki Corp.

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