Internet-enabled services could become more common in vehicles, thanks to a new operating system launched this week by Microsoft. Dubbed Windows Embedded NavReady 09, the operating system is designed to improve wireless connectivity and Internet access in GPS devices. It also includes Bluetooth features that allow GPS receivers to be coupled with other devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, and laptops.
“The industry mostly knows us for Windows PC, Windows Mobile, Zune, and Xbox,” says Dan Javnozon, senior product manager of Windows Embedded. But for the past 11 years, he says, Microsoft has been supplying embedded operating systems for everything from huge industrial robots and home automation appliances to temperature controls and some GPS devices.
Whereas the desktop version of Windows adds new functions and requires more memory with every release, embedded operating systems sacrifice versatility for leanness and efficiency. Currently, most GPS companies, such as TomTom and Garmin, use their own custom-built, proprietary operating systems. Others use off-the-shelf embedded systems that may not be ideal for GPS technology. Mio, for instance, uses an existing Microsoft operating system called Windows Embedded Compact, which is designed for real-time handheld devices.
Because GPS devices require relatively powerful operating systems, it can be expensive for companies to develop their own. NavReady makes it easy for GPS receivers to share data with other hardware, so it should reduce the complexity and cost of building and testing Internet-connected GPS devices. “I think Microsoft is laying the foundations for what we see as one of the big frontiers for navigation devices–connectivity,” says Clint Wheelock, chief research officer with ABI Research, in New York City.
Like Microsoft’s other embedded software platforms, NavReady is modular, says Javnozon: developers can discard the code they don’t need, which should make their systems more efficient. “They can pick and choose components, like Lego blocks,” Javnozon says.
Microsoft believes that the new operating system will help people retrieve more up-to-date information about nearby places, people, and services. The problem with current location-based services, says Wheelock, is that when they search for points of interest–such as restaurants, businesses, museums, and parks–they simply query a static database stored on the GPS device, which only rarely gets updated.
Existing traffic-notification services have a similar problem, Wheelock says. They generally send out information on a broadcast basis, he says, so drivers are not necessarily getting the latest real-time information, which can be crucial to, say, deciding which route to take home after work.