back to article Ford dumps Windows for QNX in new in-car entertainment unit

As foreshadowed in February, Ford has announced a new in-car entertainment and communications system that will run on BlackBerry's QNX real-time operating system, not Windows as is the case for the company's current efforts. Ford Sync 3 will offer touch-screen and voice recognition controls. The latter will allow drivers to …

  1. davemcwish

    Good Move

    It's OK but as a Sync Gen 1 user and from reports from Gen 2 users, the execution wasn't the best and it looks like M$ and Ford and unable to get it working. I don't think execution would be an issue with Apple but I suspect that Ford need to go with a proven vendor.

  2. Locky

    In-Car Blackberry

    I look forward to having to take the battery out of the engine every couple of weeks when the OS freaks out

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In-Car Blackberry

      Guess you haven't used any of the QNX powered BlackBerry 10 devices then?

      1. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: In-Car Blackberry

        "Guess you haven't used any of the QNX powered BlackBerry 10 devices then?"

        That's a very safe bet.

        Along the lines of, "Well I guess you've never been in Lunar orbit, have you?"

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: In-Car Blackberry

      Battery no. But the old system used to hang. I've had the radio suddenly switch to full volume and white noise and the controls don't work, the heater was running full blast as well. Turning off the ignition didn't do anything, neither did removing the key, it was still blasting white noise. The only thing that worked was restarting the ignition, which breaks power to the radio to stop extra drain.

      Not really something you want to do when blatting down the outside lane at 220...

      1. wolfetone

        Re: In-Car Blackberry

        For a minute I thought you were talking about the old BlackBerry's....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In-Car Blackberry

        "The only thing that worked was restarting the ignition, which breaks power to the radio to stop extra drain."

        More like to stop voltage spikes induced in the wiring by the large starter currents damaging the radio.

  3. Patrick Moody

    Touch-screen enthusiast down-vote magnet alert.

    How much of the time during that video did the driver have their attention on what was happening outside the car? I saw precisely none. Would you expect to have to be parked to carry out all the operations he did? Doubtful.

    If the EU were going to introduce any useful regulations for cars, it would be to ban the use of touch-screens in moving vehicles. Frankly, I think these kind of systems are a serious danger to other road-users due to the level of attention the driver must pay to the screen in order to interact with it.

    As much as possible, the controls in a car should be used by touch alone so the driver's attention can stay focussed on what's going on outside the car, where it should be. This would mean no screens (for the driver - for passengers there's no problem), and only switches, rotary dials or sliders for controls, all of which you can tell the state of just by touch.

    My 2003 Mondeo doesn't have a touch-screen, but it does have a ridiculous heater control which has 8 momentary-push buttons and an LCD. You can't tell what it's set to without turning it on because the LCD stays off otherwise. You have to look at the LCD for any feedback. It requires repeated presses of the buttons to adjust the fan speed or the temperature, along with further looking at the LCD to see if you've set it where you want to. It's far too distracting for something that was so elegantly and simply handled in most previous iterations. If it consisted of 3 dials like on a typical earlier-generation car I would be able to tell what its set to by feel, and I could adjust the fan speed or temperature instantaneously without even needing to glance at it to know I'd done what I intended. I'm quite happy with the rest of the car, but I think the designers at Ford should be ashamed of themselves for this aspect, and it appears that since then they've carried on even further in this lunatic direction.

    1. theOtherJT

      Couldn't agree more. Touch screens in cars are a disease.

      1. Roger Greenwood

        The future is HUD.

        Like on a fighter jet.

        I already want one.

        1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
          Happy

          "The future is HUD.

          Like on a fighter jet.

          I already want one."

          Me too. An F22 would be nice for X-mas

          1. John Gamble

            "An F22 would be nice for X-mas"

            If we get you an F22 young man, you'll have to promise to feed it and take care of it yourself.

          2. JEDIDIAH
            Linux

            Been there. Done that.

            Some of the upscale luxury cars are already equipped with HUDs.

            I drove a Beemer like that in Germany. It's too bad the map data was laughably out of date.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Go

          "The future is HUD."

          These have been available since at least the late 80's

          However their functions have been somewhat limited and IIRC ruinously expensive.

          But times change.....

        3. Bitbeisser
          Joke

          >The future is HUD.

          >Like on a fighter jet.

          >I already want one.

          HUD? Or a fighter jet?

          1. Roger Greenwood

            "HUD? Or a fighter jet?"

            Both of course, preferably a flying car.

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      I'm in two minds about these in car menu systems.. I think they can be a good thing, providing easy access to things like GPS and also preventing the user from having to look at a phone screen should they want to call someone.

      But, they need to be well designed, with an emphasis on safety instead of features. I would even go so far as to say they need to emphasise safety at the expense of features. I would not call any of the systems I have seen particularly well designed.

      In fact, the BBC had a programme on the increasing tech in cars. I think it was shown as a Panorama documentary, but I cannot find it. They had several experts saying that they think the increasing use of tech in cars is a massive safety problem.

    3. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      The problem becomes - if not touch screens, then what?

      Customers are increasingly after twiddly features - SatNav, climate control, media services etc. These all require control of some sort.

      Having masses of clear, single function buttons won't cut the mustard - too many would be more distracting than a touch screen. BMW use a wheel type device (other multifunction button solutions exist too, of course) - this too is distracting as you have to scroll around masses of menus etc (I know - I've had one). Voice control simply isn't up to snuff - most struggle with the combination of ambient noise, variation in accents etc.

      So, really, how much worse is touch screen than any of the above if customers want these modern functions? Voice may be the answer in the long term for input, but audio feedback is point-in-time, so only of limited use (you don't have an audio output telling you speed). Like voice control, head up display is in it's early days, but a combination might work for some functions - but you don't want surplus stuff like air con splashed across the windscreen.

      I'd also say a touch screen satnav on the dashboard is a heck of alot safer than a road atlas on the lap - and this was alarmingly common once.

      I almost sympathize with car manufacturers trying to balance the wants/needs of the consumer with functionality and safety.

      Bring on the neural interface!!!!!

      1. Christian Berger

        "The problem becomes - if not touch screens, then what? Customers are increasingly after twiddly features - SatNav, climate control, media services etc. These all require control of some sort."

        Well yes, the solution for that has already been found, buttons. Ideally with a QWER*-like keyboard so you can type commands, or perhaps something where you use 4-12 soft buttons to navigate through a menu. The first time you try you will have to look at it, but if the menu is structured well, you will quickly remember to press 13221 to plan the route to the nearest open moustache shop, or 23 to turn off the radio. Of course people will remember those combinations as movements not numbers.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't entirely agree. As long as the important switches that you have to use at any point in your drive are to hand (they're usually on stalks by the steering wheel anyway) then non-time sensitive parts can be part of a touchscreen.

      I, like anyone who hasn't just passed their test and is an average driver, can readily glance at a control and press it even if it is on a touchscreen - you just don't do it on a corner with a large vehicle right in front of you , or while going through a built up area at permitted speed. The example of the heater with no visual feedback until you press something is dumb, however that is ux rather than based upon touchscreen controls.

      In my car, for instance the radio, media, gps, bluetooth phone unit is on a touchscreen but it also has physical buttons that can do all the features that touching it can do. However I find the touchscreen much easier and quicker to use (much less of a distraction) than the physical buttons, which I almost never use (volume and channel change is on the steering wheel anyway).

      1. Wupspups

        >I, like anyone who hasn't just passed their test and is an average driver, can readily glance at a >control and press it even if it is on a touchscreen - you just don't do it on a corner with a large vehicle

        >right in front of you , or while going through a built up area at permitted speed. The example of the >heater with no visual feedback until you press something is dumb, however that is ux rather than >based upon touchscreen controls.

        Unfortunately you seem to over estimate the skill of the "average driver". From what I have seen on the roads (certainly in the UK), the "average driver" has no awareness of what is occurring on the road around them. They seem more interested in twatting about with their smart phone, having animated conversation with passengers or just plain have their brains in neutral. Giving them another thing to mess around with instead of concentrating on driving is just asking for trouble.

      2. JEDIDIAH
        Devil

        It's crap and a menace!

        If you have to look at the interface, then it's already a big fat fail. The interface for anything on a car should be like a fighter jet. You shouldn't have to take your eyes off the action for even a split second. This sort of stuff just instituionalizes distracted driving.

      3. Dr_N Silver badge

        "I, like anyone who hasn't just passed their test and is an average driver, can readily glance at a control and press it even if it is on a touchscreen"

        Wrong.

        You can feel for switches & button without taking your eyes off the road.

        And there's feedback.

        You have to look at a touch screen to use the controls on it.

        Touchscreens don't belong in a cars.

        HUDs, classic switchgear and maybe voice control are the only acceptable safe methods of fiddling with gadgets in a car.

    5. ISP

      "This would mean no screens (for the driver - for passengers there's no problem), and only switches, rotary dials or sliders for controls, all of which you can tell the state of just by touch."

      That sounds great until you see just how many buttons and sliders you can end up with. While car hunting last year I saw a Handa Accord that had taken that approach and it looked like someone had just emptied a bucket of switchgear over the dash and stuck it where it landed. All labeled with tiny letters too, I can't see that being an improvement.

      In most cases primary controls should be simple and workable by touch I agree. Ideally either on stalks or the wheel itself for things like vol +/-, next/previous track etc, or voice function activation. important information for driving such as distance to empty, average fuel consumption and temp should indeed be on a screen for the driver though, ideally in the instrument cluster/or a HUD as others have mentioned with functions scrollable without taking your hands off the wheel.

      Relegating secondary controls to a touch screen isn't too bad IMHO though I do prefer the dual rotary temperature controls I've got now, climate takes care of the rest.

    6. big_D Silver badge

      My old Ford used to lock most functionality when the vehicle was moving - you couldn't change the destination on the navigation, for example. Only climate controls, radio and map size / orientation could be changed.

    7. Rabbit80

      To be fair to Ford, I have just got a new Focus with Sync2..

      There are buttons and dials for all the major controls such as temperature, climate, A/C and radio in addition to touchscreen and voice controls.

      The voice control works well - but takes a bit of learning the commands.

      The touchscreen is clunky, but easy to read / view for navigation.

      The smaller dashboard LCD is terrible to operate whilst driving and ought to be scrapped (uses buttons on the steering wheel)

      Any more driver operated buttons would be too many.

    8. Christian Berger

      Well it's cargo cult UI design

      Mobile phones now have converged on touch screen, so some people, who don't understand the problem now believe that touch screens are somehow suitable for all applications.

      If you look at car radios you will find that they are all designed to be used without looking at them. The left knob was volume and power, the right one was tuning. In more modern ones you choose the station by pushing buttons below the display. You can easily distinguish them. That's decent user interface design. That's also why your f an j keys have a little hump, or why your desk phone has just such a hump on the 5 key.

    9. Doug Bostrom

      Fully agree.

      Odd that we went through a period of human factors research application during which automobiles were judged in part on how easy it was for a hand to discriminate between controls without the use of eyes, something proven worthwhile by research, only to forget all of that.

      Things that can be printed are cheaper. Every electromechanical control eliminated from a dashboard is money that can be spent on useless tinsel, or pocketed. Same deal as the amazingly stupid scrabblepads on laptops. Still, there are benefits. How many cumulative hours per year are spent iteratively scraping cursors toward their destinations, or attempting to select lines of text? Couple those regressions with tappable pads and voila, a reduction in the unemployment rate! In the case of automobiles employment will be boosted by repairing wrecks, performing reconstructive surgery, providing long term care for people physically crippled by human interfaces.

  4. Michael Habel Silver badge

    The Final Nail?!

    Just anoter in what appears to be a never ending line of Nails in MicroSoft's Casket.

    I can't wait to come back here in a few Years Time, to read about how Oracle, Novell or even *gasp* Google, are seeing the "potential" of an emerging Bussness Market that's opening up FAST!!

    As MicroSoft slips ever further into its own obsurity. But, hey the X720 might actually get to become a thing!

  5. T. F. M. Reader

    Stuff usually works in promotional videos.

    Am I the only one getting the impression that none of the touch-screen operations in the video actually succeeded?

    To Ford's credit, it does not look like the guy was actually driving while fiddling with the touch screen (his hands were not on the steering wheel, at least). On the other hand, isn't one supposed to drive a Ford rather than use it as a stationary phone booth?

  6. jzlondon

    When they bought QNX, I assumed that was the end of QNX in anything but mobiles. I love being wrong sometimes.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Ford is dumping windows how will drivers see where they are going?

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Duh. All windows will be replaced by touchscreens, displaying video of what's outside the car. Except when they're displaying something else, of course.

      (Don't sneeze while operating the vehicle - attempting to clean the windscreen could activate the self-destruct system, or cause the entertainment system to download and play the entire Bieber catalog.)

  8. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Happy

    Is it just me

    or is that Ford trying to look like an Aston Martin, by the look of that front grille.

    Nice try, but given the choice I would rather get an Aston Martin for Xmas ( wouldn't mind getting a Ford, and then of course neither are very likely, but a man may dream).

  9. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Devil

    QNX

    QNX has been used in cars by Chrysler, Audi, etc. for quite some time now and the touch screens in these vehicles are well designed, intuitive, and responsive.

    I picked the icon I did because to me it's always looked like the front of a little car...

    1. Metrognome

      Re: QNX

      Have an upvote on the icon simile.

  10. chivo243 Silver badge

    Fix or repair daily

    FORD, good to see they have ditched any M$ OS. Now Ford will only have to worry about their end.

  11. Dom 3

    Funnily enough QNX crossed my mind last night for no good reason. The QNX demo floppy is still one of the most impressive demos I've ever seen. On one single 1.44MB floppy they squeezed an OS, a web server, a browser, a text editor, and some other widgets. And the graphical demos would continue to run glitch-free whatever else you did:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_VlI6IBEJ0

    This was really quite impressive in '99.

  12. Col_Panek

    I'd buy a Sync-equipped Ford...

    ....if I could load Linux on it.

    1. Oninoshiko
      Devil

      Re: I'd buy a Sync-equipped Ford...

      Why would you want that piece of trash when you can have QNX?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I'd buy a Sync-equipped Ford...

      I've been using Linux since 1992 and I'd still prefer to use QNX as the core of anything critical and realtime.

      It may be owned by Blackberry now, but QNX has been around a LONG time and has proved itself many times over.

      Of course Ford could easily shag all that by screwing up the UI. I'm looking at a replacement car at the moment and it's amazing how awful the ergonomics of most of them are.

  13. William Boyle

    Good for Ford

    I have been a QNX user/developer since 1982 (proud owner of serial number 007). Best real-time OS that I have worked with, and I have been a QNX OEM and develooper since 1982... I was even one of the developers of TCP/IP support for QNX 2.x back around 1990.

  14. thomas k.

    Honestly ...

    My Win 7 PC boots up faster than my Playbook.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Honestly ...

      On the same hardware?

      Really?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hooray for QNX

    I always had a lot of respect for QNX. It is bloody good.

    Windows Embedded I'm not so sure about. Is it built on the NT kernel, or something different? And if the former, what guarantees are there about real-time bounded response? (The MS website for Embedded gives nothing away).

    Having said all that. I really don't like touch screen interfaces. You are controlling a ton of metal barreling down the road and are legally responsible for what happens with it. You really need to have your eyes on the road.

    One nice interface I saw at a high school science fair once was a four way joystick. Flick it north-south to pick menus and east-west for options, with down-press to select. The key innovation: every time you flicked, the *car* would read out what menu you were in and what your choices were. You could do everything without taking your eyes off the road and the joystick gave you quick tactile feedback.

  16. Karl Austin

    Awful UX

    I have Sync in my Kuga, it's awful in terms of UX - nothing is properly integrated or even logical. Everyone who tries to uses it twiddles the big dial to try and navigate the menus or use the keyboard - nope, that just does the volume, nothing else. You have to use cursor keys to navigate.

    The controls on the steering wheel just do the tiny little screen in front of you, they control nothing on the main console unit - so you have to lean over a bit and sod about with the cursor keys on the dial.

    They can't have done any real user testing, or if they did it was with people who hadn't even seen a CD player let alone in-car entertainment so told them everything was fantastic.

  17. lolwhat
    FAIL

    Sigh. BlackBerry isn't trying to exit the smartphone business.

    http://www.itproportal.com/2014/04/10/blackberry-may-be-looking-to-exit-the-smartphone-game-entirely/

    UPDATE 17:30 10 April: ITProPortal has been contacted by BlackBerry, who made us aware of a clarification John Chen has made to the effect that BlackBerry is not considering leaving the smartphone arena, and that his comments were taken out of context by Reuters.

    Chen said: “I want to assure you that I have no intention of selling off or abandoning this business any time soon.‎ I know you still love your BlackBerry devices. I love them too and I know they created the foundation of this company. Our focus today is on finding a way to make this business profitable.”

  18. I will be back

    The only one

    BB 10 is the only mobile OS which never was Rooted or hacked.

    So, it is a smart move for the Ford.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS in car != devices supported

    Apple doesn't want you to run iOS in your car, they want you to have full access to your iOS device and its features in the car. There's nothing stopping a car running QNX from doing so.

    I think in the future cars will have software that support at least iOS and Android. What OS the car may be running will be of interest to almost no one, because you won't run apps on your car, you'll run them on your phone which your car's OS will interface.

    QNX is a good choice for the car's OS because as a true microkernel will be easier to keep secure.

  20. Richard Conto

    The more things change, the more they remain the same

    I'm an annoyed user of My Ford Touch - and from the looks of things, they made minor improvements to some of the screens - but the basic experience (or work-flow) seems to be the same.

    Unfortunately, the video gives the impression of the driver barreling down the road concentrating on the annoying touch-screen interface rather than driving.

    With the death sentence on My Ford Touch based on Windows Embedded Automotive, I suspect that any attempt to pair a modern cell-phone with my car 5 years from now will be pretty hopeless. The car's going to have the resale value of a brick.

  21. The Scoundrel

    Sigh of Relief

    I would not have purchased a Ford with Microsoft software, so this is a big relief.

    Regardless of how well the entertainment system was supposed to be isolated from the core control software, there is always a risk of one affecting the other. And Microsoft software in a car gives an entirely new meaning to "blue screen of death".

  22. RobHib
    Thumb Up

    No-brainer!

    Simply, QNX means higher reliability.

  23. SineWave242

    Way to go Ford!

  24. Luna Tick

    The MFT is not all bad. True, it's not very fluid or swift and but the resistive touchscreen in my Taurus is more of a problem than anything. But overall, it works for me pretty good. Not a big fan of the presented UI. Instead of blending in with the rest of the instruments and controls, looks like a gimmicky phone that's designed for constant interaction that only looks interesting in commercials and marketing materials.

  25. Chris T Almighty

    Bad design

    I can't believe all the animations. The half-second delay while new options slide or expand into place is crazy. Big buttons, big fonts you can read at a glance, instantaneous transitions, and it might be bearable.

    This is as bad as my Android TOMTOM app, where I have to hit about 5 options, with long delays in between, and hit tiny little 'Okay' buttons before it'll give me directions.

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