Microsoft's Windows CE automotive operating system will be used by German automotive electronics manufacturer Blaupunkt, a subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH, to develop navigation, entertainment, and wireless-communications devices for automobiles.
Windows CE for automotive is an open platform that includes specific APIs that will let automakers create speech-enabled, Internet, and wireless devices in vehicles. Blaupunkt plans to have after-market equipment based on the Microsoft platform, such as a radio that would provide navigational assistance, on the market by next year. Windows CE-based automotive devices are scheduled to be in German and American vehicles by 2002.
Working with Microsoft will help Blaupunkt speed up its development cycles, but because of concerns in the automotive industry about Microsoft's business tactics and software quality, Blaupunkt should try to work with multiple software vendors to cover all bases, says Dennis Virag, president of the Automotive Consulting Group. "Microsoft's business tactic is to take over whole industries, and none of the automakers want to give that up to Microsoft," Virag says. He also notes that security holes and the lack of operational continuity of Microsoft's software could eventually affect vehicle safety.
Internet services, such as news and traffic updates, instant messaging, and DVD entertainment systems, are designed to enhance the safety and comfort of drivers, according to Microsoft. "Over the next several years, we will reach a sense about what's safe in the field of automotive electronics," says Dick Brass, VP of technology development at Microsoft. "No one wants anyone to die while looking at a map."
Brass says Microsoft learned the hard way with its AutoPC, which came out in 1998, that consumers don't want a miniature version of a notebook PC installed in their cars. "Our strength is in providing the tools," Brass says. "The auto manufacturers must design and integrate the system to the end users' preference."