A shift by Denso Corp. from proprietary technology to a more open-systems approach may be at the heart of a patent-sharing agreement announced this month between the supplier and Microsoft Corp., says a telematics analyst.
Under the agreement announced July 7, Denso will pay Microsoft an undisclosed amount to gain access to Microsoft patents in applications that include in-dash navigation. Denso will provide Microsoft free access to some of its own patents.
Spokesmen for Denso and Microsoft would not comment on the deal.
Denso has been Toyota Motor Corp.'s longtime supplier for navigation systems and electronics for information and entertainment systems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Toyota owns 23 percent of Denso.
Phil Magney, vice president for automotive research at the analytical firm iSuppli Corp., said the Microsoft arrangement may mean Denso is reaching out for a new architecture for those systems.
"Denso has been a closed shop when it comes to infotainment. Literally, they have done it all in-house," Magney said. "That type of system going forward, we believe, has its days numbered."
Magney said the automotive market is moving from monolithic in-car navigation and entertainment systems to an architecture much more like that used in smart phones, which can support new applications and offer developers more flexibility.
Microsoft's modified Windows CE software platform for cars -- Microsoft Auto -- backs new and more flexible systems such as Ford Motor Co.'s Sync, Kia Motors Corp.'s UVO and, in Europe, Fiat Auto Group's Blue&Me.
Magney said the patent-sharing agreement may bring in Microsoft operating knowledge to support a Denso architecture named Blue Harmony, unveiled in January. Blue Harmony is meant to let drivers configure the layout of touchscreen controls, use Web-based Denso features and stream applications, including Pandora Internet music and social media such as Facebook and Flickr.
"We can only speculate, but it could signal support from an operating system standpoint," Magney said. "It could signal hedging their bets a bit."
Microsoft's operating system is not the only one making automotive gains. In June, Robert Bosch GmbH said that it will use Linux-based software and that Robert Bosch Car Multimedia GmbH will contribute to the Genivi Alliance, a Linux consortium, with the aim of delivering a common infotainment operating system.
Others in the field include real-time operating system supplier QNX Software Systems, a unit of Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of BlackBerry phones; and Google's Android system, better known for its applications for smart phones.
The Denso-Microsoft deal is not a technology-licensing agreement for production, the Microsoft release said, but is meant to develop "cutting-edge innovations."