Is Ford Building a Siri-Killer?
Toyota (NYSE: TM), Honda (NYSE: HMC) and General Motors (NYSE: GM) are among several automakers that are embracing Apple's voice-activated technology. But Ford (NYSE: F), which already has an exclusive joint venture with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), has apparently said "no" to Siri. Now many tech enthusiasts are wondering why.
The obvious answer is that the aforementioned deal with Microsoft currently prevents Ford from exploring other opportunities. GigaOM speculates that Ford is set to "face off" against Apple in a battle over the connected car.
But is this a battle Ford wants to fight? As an automaker, Ford has pushed hard to get consumers to adopt new technologies, mostly because it improves the company's bottom line. While the margins on standard-model vehicles are relatively low, consumers who opt for the latest and greatest in technology tend to spend several thousand more. This gives Ford every reason to fight Apple, which aims to give every automaker the same technology. If all cars feature reliable voice recognition, there will be one less reason to choose Ford. Thus, GigaOM might be on to something when it questioned Ford's strategy.
Microsoft has been in the voice recognition scene for quite some time. Through Kinect and other ventures, the company is continuing to explore this realm. But unlike Siri, which was expertly marketed and helped Apple sell more than 70 million iPhones, Microsoft has yet to produce a record-breaking success story on voice recognition alone. Kinect was popular because of its hands-free motion-based capabilities, not because its software could respond to your voice.
Meanwhile, SYNC -- the voice-activated device Microsoft designed exclusively for use within Ford vehicles -- continues to be popular with car buyers. But it's not that popular. It hasn't moved mountains in the way that Apple products can. And that's why so many people are questioning Ford's decision to stick with Microsoft.
But Microsoft is not to be underestimated. In addition to its highly anticipated iPhone 5-killer, the company is working hard to one-up Apple with new technology and an emphasis on the Xbox brand, which is much stronger than Windows.
UPDATE 6-15-12: Ford's Alan Hall has responded to the speculation that it won't support Siri, saying, "We've not said 'no' to the Apple Eyes Off feature. We've just not announced our plans yet."
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