Judging from CES 2016 so far, everybody’s getting in on connected car tech, from nerdy processor companies like Nvidia and Qualcomm, down to dark horse startups like Faraday Future, all the way up to titans like Microsoft.
But to hear Sanjay Ravi, Microsoft’s car tech boss, tell it, there’s one really big reason that auto manufacturers are picking the Redmond giant to power their efforts here.
“We are not competing with any of the automotive brands,” Ravi says. “That’s a different business.”
The concern that a lot of automakers have, Ravi says, is that they will use Google or Apple technology in their cars — and then turn around and use the data and insight they glean in their own, competitive offerings.
Instead, Ravi says, Microsoft’s whole existing business roadmap under CEO Satya Nadella slots right into the connected car business. And none of it involves making a car.
To Microsoft, the new gameplan is to provide apps, tools, and services to anybody, wherever they want to use them. So far, that’s meant stuff like Microsoft Office apps on iPhone and a more robust set of Microsoft Azure cloud services for app developers.
All of which mean that to Microsoft, the connected car is just another device. As cars get smarter, they’re going to need more software, both in terms of the intelligence needed to eventually drive themselves, and by helping their passengers be more productive (or just watch Netflix).
“Cars of the future are going to look like your office on wheels, or like your living room on wheels,” Ravi says.
And so Microsoft has made its full range of services available to car manufacturers, from apps to cloud services.
For instance, Volvo announced that you’ll soon be able to talk to select cars in its line using the Microsoft Cortana virtual assistant, by way of the Microsoft Band 2 fitness tracker. Or Nissan, which is now using the Microsoft Azure cloud to collect telematic data from connected cars, which it can use to improve its onboard software.
A lot of this is going to take time to come to full fruition, Ravi acknowledges.
So much of the connected car market is still up in the air — with Tesla, Apple, Google, and many more offering different takes on how all of this should look and work — let alone how cars should drive themselves.
But Microsoft is well-positioned to keep providing the stuff that car manufacturers need to succeed, without having to rely on a potentially capricious software partner.
“It’s a really early stage for the automotive experience,” Ravi says.