Sunday, January 14, 2007

Microsoft Ford Sync the future of Car Computers?

Ford and Microsoft have announced a system for car communications and entertainment:
Dubbed Ford Sync, the system uses Microsoft's Auto software and allows drivers to dial their cell phone and have their text messages read to them through voice commands. Drivers will also be able to use voice commands or steering wheel buttons to play music stored on a portable device including Apple Computer's iPod and Microsoft's Zune as well as other MP3 players and even USB flash drives. ...
From: "Ford, Microsoft get in Sync on in-car tech", By Ina Fried, CNET News.com, Published on ZDNet News: January 7, 2007, 10:00 AM PT
Mass production should lower the cost of such systems in cars. But you could get the same results with an after market car computer and GPS systems.

But is how much of this equipment does it make sense to build into a car? The GSM phone system was designed to use a removable smart card with the subscribers information on it. Originally the cards were the size of credit cards. The idea was that you could easily transfer your mobile phone number from one car phone to another by inserting the card in a slot in the dashboard. It was assumed phones had to be built in because they were large bulky items.

GSM phones still use smart cards (a SIM or Subscriber Identity Module), but in a much smaller format, as most phone are smaller than a credit card. Instead of having the phone built into the car, there is more likely to just be a microphone and speaker (and possibly power connection). Some cars have a Bluetooth wireless phone interface built in. You transfer your phone number from car to car by taking your phone with you. What is left in the car is a relatively dumb interface.

Similarly MP3 players can be plugged into a car radio and a GPS unit into the cigarette lighter. From reading Ford's announcement it appears that most of the intelligence for Sync is not intended to be built into the car, but in portable phones and music players the occupants have with them.

Perhaps we will see cars equipped with a large screen in the dashboard with some basic functions. But for the personalized services (your phone calls, your music) the car will communicate by Bluetooth with your smartphone. Already some car GPS units have Bluetooth so they can be used as a handsfree phone.

A car could have a screen for each occupant, communicating with the phones in the car and with each other. Each occupant could see information from their own phone on their screen, or share music, video or a phone call with the other occupants. These would be easy to install as they would only need power from the car, no complex data cabling. They would make a good after market installation or could be removable tablet computer.

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