Since the end of the partnership between Ford and Microsoft to
develop the first generation of the SYNC infotainment platform, Microsoft has
successfully repositioned itself as a privacy-forward enterprise partner to
OEMs for developing cloud-based connected and autonomous vehicle applications
with its suite of Azure cloud services. The poor overall reception of SYNC, and
the subsequent failure of Windows Embedded as a viable infotainment operating
system platform, meant that Microsoft has remained a tangential partner to OEM
infotainment products and services, only working to embed selected applications
such as Skype on more modern platforms, as well as bringing in certain edge
services from its Azure product suite.
However, modern infotainment roadmaps are filled with digital
services which are used by consumers throughout their daily lives. The
expectation is that these applications and services, which are available
ubiquitously on mobile platforms, are now also available seamlessly while on
In order to bring these digital ecosystems into the vehicle, two
specific tech giants have started partnering with global automakers to
integrate their digital ecosystems: Amazon and Google. These partnerships allow
OEMs to integrate popular digital services such as Google Maps and Amazon
Alexa, but these partnerships also come with certain compromises for OEMs and
their existing supply chain. For example, Google requires OEMs to integrate its
full services suite while continuing to bolster the value of its advertising
business, and Amazon's Alexa ambitions underpin a broader retail strategy.
Given the latent ambitions of both Google and Amazon in bringing
their digital services into the vehicle, Microsoft can claim one major
differentiator from their competitors: privacy. Microsoft does not seek to
monetize the user; rather, their business model is focused entirely on
enterprise support to their customers, often resulting in large Azure and other
To position themselves as the enterprise enabler, Microsoft has been
quickly building a large catalog of partners on its Connected Vehicle Platform,
underscored by announcements
with major connected vehicle partners such as LG, Faurecia, TomTom,
Otonomo, WirelessCar, and Cubic Telecom.
One important element of these activities is the enablement of
in-vehicle experiences through its partnerships with LG and Faurecia.
Microsoft's cloud-based software has been integrated with LG's webOSAuto
platform, and Faurecia uses Microsoft software to build personalized services in
its "Cockpit of the Future" product.
The common thread of privacy underpins all of these
partnerships and product announcements. None of these announcements present any
opportunity for Microsoft to monetize the consumer - a key difference from the
other tech partners in the industry.
While Microsoft's infotainment ambitions today are limited to the
webOS partnership, there is a very real opportunity for Microsoft to act as a
neutral partner to OEMs who want to build a curated digital ecosystem. While
services from Google and Amazon are more familiar to users, Microsoft's
intellectual property in Bing, Cortana, Azure, and Windows give it all of the
tools needed to build a differentiated infotainment product which focuses on enabling
the OEM business model.
It won't be easy, however, given that:
Using its partner-based approach, in this conceptual reality, we
would likely expect Microsoft to bring in best-in-class partners while acting
as the system integrator, allowing OEMs to curate their own digital platforms.
"With some industry tailwinds favoring privacy-forward
applications, Microsoft has a real opportunity to re-emerge as a player in the
infotainment space, but it wouldn't be easy. As one of the few companies with
all of the intellectual property necessary to build a modern infotainment
platform, it would be a shame for the industry if we don't at least see a
conceptual attempt by Microsoft and some of its key partners to put together a
competitive offering against Android Automotive." says Alex Oyler, author of SBD's upcoming 2020 report "Automotive Operating Systems & Connected Infotainment Service Platforms".