Apple vs. Microsoft – Battle for Your Car

Microsoft was the first major software company to make major headway in the telematics space with its Sync product. Now Apple is trying to make in-roads by using a rather different approach.

Microsoft’s Sync product is essentially a voice-activated in-vehicle computer that provides you with voice control of your music, navigation, mobile apps, and calls. In addition, it provides GPS tracking for emergency response purposes. It has seen success with Ford because it has been a key feature in their new line of vehicles since 2007. There are over 4 million Sync systems installed in Ford’s vehicles with another 9 million planned during the next 3 years.

Now, Apple has entered the battle with our favorite virtual companion, Siri.

At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, Apple’s iOS Sr. VP, Scott Forstall announced a new initiative to integrate Siri into luxury vehicles. They are currently working with BMW, GM, Mercedes, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota and Honda to produce a Siri button on the vehicles’ steering wheels. When pressed, this button will activate Siri on your phone (via Bluetooth) and assist you as you drive. Therefore, Siri could potentially be used to control your music, navigation, mobile apps, and obviously calls.

The ironic thing here is that Microsoft is betting on an approach that requires both the computer and an application (i.e. Apple circa 1980’s) and Apple is betting on an approach that just requires their application (i.e. Microsoft circa 1980’s).

Apple’s power in the vehicle should not be overlooked. Previously, many auto manufacturers have been forced to incorporate Apple’s iPod USB interfaces and docking stations into their vehicles. They should now realize that they must provide additional integration with Apple devices to offer a more compelling product for their potential customers. In the process, they may be able to off-load much of the telematics functionality to Apple. This could have major implications for how they deploy, support, and manage telematics solutions.

Each of these titans are placing big bets on which model will be successful. Will we see a replay of the 1980’s PC/Mac wars in the vehicle?