The prospect of seeing Microsoft Office’s helpful (or unhelpful, depending on your view) paperclip mascot appearing on your car’s dashboard may fill many people with dread, but Microsoft has announced that it plans to take over the software technology in your car. Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development,announced that the software mega-company wants to put its operating system into the car.
Johnson, speaking at the Converge Conference this week, said that unlike Google and Apple, Microsoft does not intend to make an autonomous car. However, the company wants to turn your car into an office by licensing its technologies to automakers. The prospect of having Microsoft Office capacities in the car raises many questions, including whether it is desirable or wise to be handling email or taking calls from the office while driving down the highway. However, automakers and tech companies seem certain that this integration is the future. Microsoft has already spoken with eight separate carmakers about what features they would like in their future self-driving cars. They are recommending that automakers install Office 365, which is the new Windows-based operating system, in addition to creating a link to Azure, which is Microsoft’s cloud-based technology.
Johnson explained Microsoft’s vision: “You’re sitting in the car for many, many minutes a day. Can that be part of your new office, can it be your new desk, a place where you actually get work done?” she said. The prospect of finding more ways to spend more time at work is a classic American tactic. But Johnson said what Microsoft eventually offers is in the hands of the automakers, who “generally will come to us with a specific focus.” She said some were focused on productivity, while other carmakers wanted a better driving experience or entertainment experience.
Microsoft is already in the auto business, having made software for companies like Fiat, BMW, Nissan and others, who have adapted Windows for their dashboard interfaces. Microsoft’s biggest advantage may be in adding its technologies to the automakers’ entertainment and infotainment systems. Google is already moving in this direction as well. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler earlier this year. Under the Google-Fiat-Chrysler model, self-driving technologies will first be integrated into 100 self-driving vehicles (mostly the mini-vans).
As for a timeline on bringing Microsoft’s vision to fruition, Johnson said the timeframe was largely in the hands of the automakers. While they wait, Microsoft is forging ahead on other car-related projects. The company is already working with Toyota to make the driver experience better.
Microsoft’s decision to forgo making its own autonomous-driving vehicle shows that the company knows how to stay in its lane. Although both Google and Apple are expending huge amounts of money on research and development, creating a car from the bottom up is an enormous task. Instead Microsoft has more down-to-earth dreams. Back in January, Microsoft announced it was working with IAV and Volvo to assist with self-driving technology, and it also demonstrated how its wearable health band, Microsoft Band, could also be used to do vocal commands to control a car.