Tool Around With Microsoft, Ford

Will information workers make more use of e-mail, conference calling and other mobile applications?
Microsoft (Quote) and Ford (Quote) unveiled an in-car system called Sync that lets customers access a variety of digital products, such as cell phones, handheld computers, portable music players and other USB-based storage devices.

The product, based on Microsoft Auto software, allows customers to use voice commands for accessing contacts and performing other functions. Ford's contributions to the mobile application include a dashboard for visualizing connected devices and buttons built into the steering wheel for so-called hands-free access.

The application will also convert text messages received by the phones into audio files to which users can listen so they can keep their eyes on the road.

Ford Sync
Communication on the road.
Source: Ford

Bill Gates alluded to the unique challenge of developing technology for in-car use during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"The car is special. If you want to deliver [functionality] to the driver, you have to think of incredibly simple commands," he said.

Although the application is being introduced at an event intended to spur interest among consumers, Microsoft is also aggressively courting the mobile workforce, particularly as the race for unified communications heats up.

Prasad Venkatesh, group and technical leader with Ford's infotronics research and advanced engineering department, noted that Sync could be the first step toward giving cars enterprise-class business functions.

"The computing and communication capability of tomorrow's automobile might begin to approach what's available in our networked office environment today," he said in a statement.

The system will be made available in 12 different high-end Ford models during the 2007 calendar year, and will be expanded to all Ford model cars and trucks "in the near future," said Ford.

According to Ptak Noel & Associates analyst Simon Forge, however, the market may not be as ready for Sync as Microsoft and Ford expect.

He noted that in-car navigation systems took a lot longer than expected to gain traction, and said users may be swayed by studies demonstrating the inherent dangers in these type of applications.

"There are problems with any form of mobile communication from cars," he told "When you're driving, you're actually distracted, and there are reports showing that your vision is actually affected by concentrating other things."

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