A relationship with Ford would be a coup for Blackberry, which was the early leader in the smartphone business when it was introduced in 1999 but has been losing ground for years. Blackberry shares were up 59 cents to $9.73 in early morning trading.
Sync has been one of Ford's few disappointments in recent years, one of the few blemishes on the company since Alan Mulally took over as CEO in 2006. Sync and the MyFord Touch infotainment system have consistently held Ford back in vehicle quality ratings by both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.
Microsoft (MSFT) has been Ford's partner since Sync was introduced in 2007. The switch from Microsoft was initially reported on Feb. 19 in The Hansen Report, an automotive electronics newsletter, which said that Ford's third-generation Sync technology will be based on QNX from Blackberry, not Windows Embedded Automotive from Microsoft.
"Ford has been trying for many months to find a company to take over maintenance of the Sync 2 software," the newsletter said. Although Ford and Microsoft broke ground with the first and second Sync platforms, Sync 2 "has been criticized for being glitch prone and difficult to operate," it said, noting that "Ford is not at all done with Microsoft, but wants to work with the company differently going forward."
Ford said it will continue to work with Microsoft and wouldn't comment specifically on a future relationship with Sync.
"Ford and Microsoft are longtime partners, and we continue working together for the future," said spokeswoman Susannah Wesley in an email. "Ford works with a variety of partners and suppliers to develop and continuously improve our in-car connectivity systems for customers. We do not discuss details of our work with others or speculate on future products for competitive reasons."
A Blackberry spokesperson was not immediately available to comment. Sources told Bloomberg that "using QNX will be less expensive than licensing Microsoft technology and will improve the flexibility and speed of the next Sync system.
Ford has built more than 10 million vehicles worldwide that are equipped with Sync, "which allows customers to make phone calls, change radio stations and find nearby destinations without taking their hands off the wheel," The Detroit News reported. "The automaker could easily update the software of those vehicles already equipped with Sync to the BlackBerry software," a source told the newspaper.
Blackberry shares traded as high as $148.13 in 2008. In November 2013, a $4.7 billion buyout of the company collapsed, and shares fell as low as $5.98.
In 2011, the company rejected takeover overtures from Amazon (AMZN).
Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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