Microsoft has been powering a lot of different car entertainment systems over the years. Ford, Kia, BMW, Nissan, and Fiat have all used special versions of Windows to create their own interfaces and systems, but Microsoft is also focusing on its own “Metro” user interface for its Windows in the car future. At the company’s Build developer conference this week, Microsoft’s Steve Teixeira revealed what that future will look like. It’s actually a lot like Apple’s idea of CarPlay, a method to project what’s on your phone screen directly onto a car’s infotainment system display.
Microsoft has created a concept that it’s currently testing in real cars, and the idea allows Windows devices to mirror what’s shown on screen into a touch- and car-friendly interface. The current prototype uses the connectivity standard Mirrorlink, an alternative to Apple’s CarPlay system. Mirrorlink is currently used by Nokia’s Symbian phones and Sony’s Xperia Z handset, but it’s expected to gain broader support if infotainment systems start to use the standard more. Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, and Citroen are all working on cars with Mirrorlink support, and aftermarket car radio manufacturers Alpine and Pioneer are backing it.
The Windows in the car concept essentially extends the functionality of a Windows Phone directly into a built-in car display. During the demo — which crashed at one point, demonstrating it’s clearly a concept — Teixeira describes how developers will be able to create apps that are designed for the car. A marketplace is shown in some parts of the user interface, and it all looks a lot like a miniature version of Windows 8. There’s swiping between tiles and the main interface, and sections for radio, maps, and apps.
Much like how Apple unveiled its iOS in the car before it turned into CarPlay, this Windows in the car concept isn’t ready to ship just yet. Teixeira doesn’t provide a date on when we should expect such a system to exist, or whether car manufacturers have expressed interest in using Mirrorlink and Microsoft’s idea of Windows in the car. It might be some time before we see this in reality, but at least Microsoft is aware it needs to take a different approach to getting its products into the cars of the future.