Breaking: Microsoft Preps Car Zune

Best graphic ever?
Microsoft this week received a patent that could have a profound effect on the car audio landscape. The newly minted patent covers a portable audio device that can be docked and/or integrated into a car stereo. The union would allow the devices to transfer media and data back-and-forth.

The guts of the patent boil down to this key point:

A car stereo including a docking station into which an off-the-shelf handheld computer can be docked, and including an input/output (I/O) component allowing the car stereo to communicate with the handheld computer when the handheld computer is docked in the docking station, the car stereo indicating to the handheld computer, when the handheld computer is docked in the docking station, which one of a plurality of different appliance types the car stereo is.

Earlier this year, Microsoft and Ford announced an alliance that would put an MS-based stereo into several of its cars — this is clearly the device. Apple already maintains similar arrangements for iPod linkage with BMW, VW, and others. The major difference here is that the Microsoft version will not be made exclusively for Zune due to the fact that it includes various forms of input. This inclusion broadens the devices range and its perceived appeal.

Ford is dubbing the device the Sync and plans to offer it on 12 2008 model year vehicles including the Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and Lincoln MKX and MKZ. So I imagine we’ll start seeing it toward the end of the year.

Thanks to Patent Monkey for the scoop.