One of the benefits of driving a rental car is you get to taste a little bit of how others live. Unlike smartphones, cars don’t generally get rotate on a two-year cycle. If you buy a car, chances are you have it for at least five years, if not ten or fifteen. So it’s easy to get out of touch with what’s going on in the world of automobiles. But sometimes life affords you the opportunity to explore just a bit, and that’s how I found myself behind the wheel of a Ford Edge recently.
Microsoft has partnered with Ford for some time now, powering Ford’s entertainment/environmental controls with Microsoft Sync. Sync is a cool little system that employs a nice range of technology, but I found myself yearning for something. Sure, the Microsoft logo was there, but it just didn’t feel right. That’s when it hit me.
Where are the live tiles?
Ok, I know this is Microsoft sync, not Windows. But that led me to ask myself – why not Windows? Microsoft has a nice friendly interface that would work pretty darn well in a vehicular interface. Those big friendly live tiles would be easy to reach and quick to glance at – because your eyes do belong on the road after all. Plus they’d be large enough to tap quickly with minimal distraction.
On Microsoft Sync, I often found myself distracted. The resistive touch screen was a bit clumsy, and the interface controls were not placed very well. This could be an advantage that Windows brings. Live Tiles could be positioned and resized according to the user, which would make them easier to access without taking your eyes off the road. Plus the five-way rocker that the Ford Edge had could be used to navigate those tiles without needing to touch the screen. It all makes a lot of sense.
But let’s take this further. Apple and Android both already announced their auto platforms. Microsoft already has one but going to Windows could generate excitement for the platform once more. Plus, it would introduce a whole new range of customers to the Windows 10 platform. Let’s make all form factors mean all form factors. Microsoft might be missing an opportunity here.
Everywhere you want to be
People spend a ton of time in their cars. You’re looking at twelve to twenty hours per week, easily. Using a Windows interface at home is powerful, translating that to the automotive industry would make it that much more ubiquitous. Ubiquity is what Microsoft needs right now. Windows needs to be in your face (and on your face) as much as possible in order to start gaining the mind share, which is so critical in consumer products.
Phones already work with cars. But Google and Apple are moving to make cars an extension of people’s phones, which is a powerful thing. Microsoft needs to get in on that too, but not with Sync. It’s dated. Putting the new interface in front of people is key to making Windows as much a part of your car as it is your work and play.
Ready to roll
The interface is already there. A few tweaks here and there and Microsoft could be onto something really big. Make it work with all phones too, not just Windows Phones. Going back to my smartwatch discussion from half a year ago, this is an opportunity for all users to learn what mobile Windows is all about, so there should be no platform lock-in involved. Let people use what they want, as long as they’re using live tiles to access it.
If Microsoft is serious about staying in the race, it can’t afford to let a major market segment get dominated by Apple and Google again. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both infantile platforms. Microsoft actually has a lot of experience in this area, so it’s time to use it before the fruits and bots get it figured out. If Microsoft can evolve the platform to bring it in line with all of its other offerings, it will be that much closer to being everywhere, and if there’s a better way to grab people’s attention and get mind share, I don’t know what it is.