​INSIGHT: Is Microsoft considering automotive market re-entry?

​INSIGHT: Is Microsoft considering automotive market re-entry?

From the here-we-go-again department comes word of Microsoft seeking a partner to bring its Cortana speech recognition platform to the automotive market.

Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Microsoft

Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Microsoft

From the here-we-go-again department comes word of Microsoft seeking a partner to bring its Cortana speech recognition platform to the automotive market.

We've been down this road before and, with a little luck, some collision avoidance will kick in to save us all from further wrong way driving.

Like a comet flaming across a Russian sky Microsoft streaked into the automotive market on the strength of its early forays with Fiat (Blue&Me), Ford (SYNC) and Kia (Uvo).

These initial efforts were filled with promise especially in view of the array of untapped Microsoft assets suitable to automotive deployment including speech recognition, traffic mitigation, customer relationship management software, gesture recognition, cloud services and IP telephony (Skype) to name a few.

But it was not to be and the brightness in the sky turned into a flash in the pan. There was a glimmer of hope for a second coming as Ford considered a Microsoft bid at redemption with a Windows 10 variant for SYNC Gen 3, but Blackberry and its QNX real-time operating system got the call instead.

The report emerges from comments from Microsoft executives at the company's Taiwan-based research and development arm quoted by - Microsoft Eyeing Taiwanese Firms for Car Program.

The article suggests Microsoft has been struck by Apple CarPlay envy and is seeking a return to the automotive stage.

The news is notable in that one of the greatest strengths and identifiable qualities of Apple CarPlay is its Siri speech recognition system. Microsoft wisely sees a similar role for Cortana.

(Strategy Analytics agrees that speech is already playing and will play an increasingly important role in safe in-vehicle user interfaces enabling access to cloud applications and resources.)

But, unlike, Siri, Microsoft has a spotty, if not embarrassing, record in the automotive industry. While Apple, in spite of its own distractions, has plotted an unbroken courses of so-far successful innovations in smartphone connectivity for iPhones leading up to CarPlay, Microsoft stumbled badly in its relationship with Ford and failed to build on its early success.

And it's not as if there isn't a surfeit of emerging speech solutions advancing voice-based interface technologies in the car.

Companies including Capio, VocalIQ, Sensory, Semvox, Artificial Solutions and others are already challenging Nuance's dominance in the space.

Cortana would have to prove it not only has something new but will also have to give evidence that it isn't, once again, tip-toeing in to the automotive space as a precursor to an unceremonious and premature exit.

The automotive team of old at Microsoft has more or less been disbanded leaving questions as to who might lead such a refreshed automotive program.

It is clear that Microsoft, like many of its tech industry competitors, will require a strategic auto industry hire if it hopes to be taken seriously.

Flirting on the fringes of the auto industry with Taiwan-based partners hardly qualifies as a credible automotive market re-entry.

The door is always open in Detroit, and Tokyo and Stuttgart etc. - but the executives on the other side of those doors do have long memories.

By Roger Lanctot - Research Analyst, Strategy Analytics

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