Ford Sync Has The Lead, Will It Hold On To It?

It’s a new foundation for the ultimate mobile device. The automobile will never be the same.

As the mobile web (i.e. sites specifically designed to be viewed on mobile devices) is being replaced by mobile apps and sites that are dual purpose (i.e. the standard site can be viewed reliably in a mobile browser) Google seems to think that developers should be leverage the mobile web to create cross platform applications.

Fast Company’s April’s 2010 issue includes an article by Paul Hochman on Ford, Sync and how the electronics platform is redefining the automaker that few people wanted anything to do with just a couple years ago.  It’s a good read and you should click through below to the full article, but first I want to highlight a passage from the end of the article.

Competition is looming. In addition to Kia, Audi, Mercedes, and other manufacturers are working on their own systems. “They obviously have a big lead,” says Koslowski, the Gartner auto analyst, about Ford, “but sometimes being a first mover doesn’t pay off. Think of Apple. There were plenty of MP3 players in the market before it introduced the iPod. For Ford, the burden it has put on itself is to keep innovating. I think the company is capable, but it takes a commitment all the way from the top.”

This is an important point… Ford has the first mover advantage, but they’ve picked a strategy that no one else is using (yet) and not only do they need to keep innovating they don’t have anyone in the automotive industry then can learn lessons from.  Now, and this is important, Ford is purporting itself to be thinking like a software company and that is, to a large extent, what it (and others) will need to do to address the challenge of short development cycles and changing customer demands.  Zipping through multiple iterations of a web site or software package is extremely common, but unheard of in the automotive world of 7 year vehicle cycles and 2-3 electronics cycles.

Ford has taken a very rational approach to rolling out new features and functionality for the Sync system (including the launch of MyFord Touch), but it remains to be seen how they will continue to innovate the platform while developers take advantage of their newly granted freedom to integrate.  Other manufacturers are taking different approaches and it’s only a matter of time before there are other products in market that will challenge Ford for the in-car electronics ‘wow factor’ (in fact, how long before this isn’t a wow factor and we just expect it like we expect AM/FM radio?).  I’ve said before, I believe that some hybrid connected / embedded combination is likely the long term answer (tho it has it’s own challenges…cost, for example), but will Ford go that way or continue to offer the most low cost platform possible.

I haven’t seen Ford’s product roadmap, so I don’t know where the product will end up, but I do know that the answers to these questions will decide if Ford keeps it’s lead or give it all up to the ‘fast followers’ (blech, I hate that term) that often dominate the industry.

via [fast company]

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