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Microsoft hopes to rev poky telematics market

Posted: 17 Jul 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Microsoft? Windows CE? operating system? telematic? dashboard electronic?

In an effort to pump up the sagging image of the telematics market and establish itself as a leader in dashboard electronics, Microsoft Corp. will release on Monday (July 15) a list of five automakers that will use the Windows CE operating system in 12 upcoming car models.

The list, which includes entries from BMW, Citroen, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Volvo, is intended to show that carmakers are moving strongly toward dashboard-based telecommunication systems, despite the recent demise of Wingcast LLC and the tepid response of consumers toward telematics in North America.

"People need to understand that the telematics industry is not dead," said Ed Lansinger, product manager of Windows CE for Automotive at Microsoft. "We have examples of successful programs to prove it."

Microsoft's automotive successes include deployments in BMW's 7 Series navigation system; Citroen's C5 and Xsara telematics systems; Mitsubishi's Mirage Dingo, Airtrek, Lancer Cedia and Chariot Grandis navigation systems; Subaru's Legacy Lancaster ADA navigation system; and Volvo's S60, S80, V70, and Cross Country Road and Traffic Information systems.

The automakers are using Microsoft's technology in conjunction with software applications that offer turn-by-turn navigation, hands-free cell phone control, voice recognition and text-to-speech capabilities, in addition to traffic information and navigation aids. Most of the deployments fall loosely in the category of telematics, defined as the linking of data communications and computers in automotive applications.

Others get off the road

Microsoft's successes stand in stark contrast to recent news from the telematics market. Wingcast folded a month ago after Ford Motor Co. declined to continue funding the 20-month-old telematics venture. A recently published study issued by The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics projected that the market for such systems may still be as much as eight years away. Moreover, General Motors' OnStar Division is said to be struggling and Cadillac shelved its Cadillac Infotainment system a year ago.

"We're not concerned about the future of the [telematics] market," Lansinger said. "We know it's going to be important to connect vehicles to the Internet, not only so that consumers can get information, but also so that automotive manufacturers can connect to vehicles. Everyone expects connectivity to the Internet to be fundamental, but first we're going to go through a period where some players in this market will be weeded out."

Industry analysts said that Microsoft's announcements meant little in the larger scheme of the telematics business. "It's interesting, but it doesn't mean that Microsoft is capturing the vehicle," said Paul Hansen, publisher of The Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics. "At this point, Windows CE for Automotive is still thought of as an interim solution. A lot of people are saying that they are definitely interested in Java, and they feel that CE is a temporary measure."

Microsoft declined to estimate how many vehicles would use Windows CE as a result of its recent design wins. Company executives said that the telematics systems would be offered as options in most of the vehicles, making it impossible to accurately forecast sales numbers.

Microsoft's list is notable, however, for its lack of any North American automakers. Neither General Motors, with its industry-leading OnStar Division, nor Ford employ Windows CE for automotive use.

Microsoft executives said that its successes with European and Asian automakers reflect a higher demand for telematics in those areas of the world. "Telematics started in Japan and Europe," Lansinger said. "In those places there's more demand for navigation systems because the roads are more complicated."

Analysts believe, however, that Windows CE could eventually face difficulties in the United States and Japan because Microsoft is not a member of the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C), which is attempting to create a standard specification for telematics hardware and software. "Windows has laid a fledgling claim to the dashboard, but it's not by virtue of participation in AMI-C," Hansen said. "AMI-C latched on to Java and has continued to go in that direction."

? Charles J. Murray

EE Times

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