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Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform is a more far-reaching approach than either Apple’s or Google’s

Attacking from a position of strength is typically a well-regarded approach when strategizing for any sort of long-lasting dominance, and as the war for car buyers dollars evolves, we’re watching companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft launch arrows from their respective high perches.

During this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a cornucopia of technology companies have offered their interpretation on the evolution of the automobile and how connected technologies will shape the next generation of car buying experiences.

Thanks to days worth of leaks and announcements coming from CES, we no longer have to ask ourselves, who is doing what in the automotive space, but rather the new question becomes, who’s approach to the connected car will likely be the future.

Per my opening analogy, we’re seeing a growing divide between how companies such as Apple and Google are using their positions of mobile strength to help shape the connected car experience than how others are choosing to approach the market. With Android Auto getting time on the stage during a Chrysler-Fiat demonstration, we get a view of the smartphone extended and refined for a more personal driving experience.

At this year’s CES, the three companies, Panasonic, Qualcomm, and Google are taking Android to new places. Instead of just running phones or being mirrored on a car’s screen, the companies are showing off a standalone in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system that runs on the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system. The system includes everything to make it operational in a car, including the hardware, LTE modem, and the operating system.Car manufacturers could purchase the system, then customize it with desired appearance and features. Think of it as how different phone companies, such as Samsung and HTC, have proprietary interfaces but still run on the same types of Android OS. – Headline News

While not directly tied to CES, Ford also announced several of its “smart cars” in-dash infotainment units will also support Android Auto as well as Apple’s CarPlay platforms. Nevertheless, both Apple and Google are looking to extend a consumers mobile experience, either through aftermarket additions or built-in hardware, offering another touch-screen-centric app focused interaction in the car.

On the other side of the battlefield we are now seeing cloud computing giants such as Amazon and Microsoft take an indirect approach to the connect car. Thanks to a technology company called Inrix, we see Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa make its way to the automobile for the first time at CES.

Technology company Inrix has announced that it will integrate Amazon Alexa into its OpenCar platform for connected vehicles.

In laymens terms, this means that vehicles enabled with Inrix’s OpenCar platform will be given access to all the features of Amazon Alexa, including Audible audiobooks, Amazon Music and numerous Inrix Driver Services including parking, traffic and road weather conditions.

Also, late Thursday night, we got a glimpse at how Microsoft’s cross-platform multi-device digital assistant Cortana will make its way to BMW and Nissan smart cars in the coming months.

Mr. Ghosn announced today at CES that the Renault-Nissan Alliance is continuing its partnership on the development and deployment of advanced connected technologies, such as Microsoft Cortana, an in-vehicle virtual personal assistant. With features such as Cortana speech analytics, drivers can benefit from advanced in-vehicle voice recognition and intuitive human machine interface (HMI).

Cortana will allow the vehicle to adapt to personalized driver settings, even understanding different driver preferences in a shared vehicle, almost making it feel like your own.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance will develop and launch new connected services and applications that make it easier for people to stay connected to work, entertainment and social networks. It will also offer vehicle-centric services that can simplify and enhance engagement with the car through usage-based information, remote access, remote diagnostics and preventive maintenance.

Beyond just having a witty and preventative maintenance assistant in the car, Nissan will also be using an underlying layer of Microsoft’s services called the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform that includes Azure, Office 365, Cortana and other cloud-based intelligent services.

While infotainment units are a measured quantity in a vehicle, and Apple and Google are looking to leverage their strong mobile presence in that specific area, it’s becoming clear that Microsoft, along with Amazon, are looking to take a road less traveled. Rather than putting a drivers focus on the in-dash unit of their car and forcing auto makers to pick and choose which of their inventory supports these mobile operating systems, Amazon and Microsoft are looking to leverage their impressive cloud services across hardware.

Car buyers are watching an ever so slight rift develop as the concepts of connected cars develop. Taking a 30,000 foot view of the divergent timelines, there is a future where car companies and lawmakers agree on the right circumstances for a completely autonomous future. In this future, autonomous cars become moving entertainment centers, fully equipped with the latest apps and are an extension of a user’s preferred smartphone experience.

On the other hand, there is a more immediate and slightly less autonomous future where a car becomes the hardware extension of an ever-present cloud assistant. To which, a user begins a conversation, internet search, appointment, schedule, document, phone call, meeting, briefing etc from a PC, continues that same conversation throughout the home or a car (hands-free) and ends it on any mobile device of their choosing.

Apple and Google definitely have the market cornered on the mobile experience, but if CES 2017 is any indication, the connected car landscape remains a wide open and changing market. It will be interesting to see which of the two approaches become mainstays in the future.

Let me know which interpretation you prefer or think will win out in the end and why, in the comments below.

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Do you think beefed up infotainment units are the future of connected cars or cloud powered AI assistants?