The thriving automaker made an unlikely appearance during yesterday's Google I/O Conference. It's not a surprise because Ford is an automaker. Geeks and gear heads may not party in the same circles, but Ford CEO Alan Mulally has been a staple at the Consumer Electronics Show and other tech-driven events. The convergence of automobiles and connectivity has narrowed the gap between Detroit and Silicon Valley.
No, Ford partnering with Google is a head-scratching presenter because it seemed as if the car and light truck giant had already hitched a ride with Microsoft as its tech partner. It's Mr. Softy, after all, that's been powering Ford's voice-activated Sync platform for years. Does Mulally really need Microsoft and Google technology rubbing elbows on the dashboard?
Google Prediction API -- a Google Labs release that helps predict behavior based on user actions in the past -- is being tested by Ford on plug-in hybrids. After learning a driver's patterns, it can determine whether a weekday morning start-up is going to be a long workday commute or if a Sunday afternoon run is just a few blocks to church. Drivers will confirm the assumption, and the car will allocate its electric- and gas-powered options more effectively.
Drivers will naturally need to check their tinfoil hats in the trunk. Consumers are weary these days of being too identifiable. We're shredding cookies in cyberspace faster than Sesame Street's Cookie Monster on morning TV. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is coming under fire for how it tracks the whereabouts of iPhone users. Ford will have to assure folks shelling out five figures for a new ride that Big Brother isn't some phantom accessory. The fuel efficiency message will have to be pitched loud and clear.
Will this be bigger than a one-off prediction tool for the next generation of hybrids? Who knows? Microsoft and Ford do have an open marriage.
There was nothing stopping the world's largest software company from teaming up with Toyota Motors (NYSE: TM ) this year to raise the bar on telematics. The Entune multimedia system gives Toyota drivers access to Microsoft's Bing for navigation as well as the ability to buy theater tickets through MovieTickets.com's virtual box office or make dining reservations through OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN ) . Entune lives on Microsoft's Azure cloud.
No one's going to play favorites. Dashboard toys sell cars these days, and every automaker is going to try to gain any technological advantage that's available. Geeks and gear heads come together because they all ultimately know where they're heading.
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