News is gushing from the annual Mobile World Congress in Madrid:

  • Ford may dump Microsoft, embrace BlackBerry for smart cars
  • Microsoft says Lenovo will make Windows phone
  • Microsoft aims for cheap cellphones
  • WhatsApp adds voice
  • Ovum analyst likes Cisco’s “small cell” play

The details:

  • Ford Said to Drop Microsoft for BlackBerry in Sync Systems

Ford Motor Co., struggling with in- car technology flaws, will base the next-generation Sync system on BlackBerry Ltd.’s QNX and no longer use Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, according to people briefed on the matter.

Using QNX will be less expensive than licensing Microsoft technology and will improve the flexibility and speed of the next Sync system, the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public, said Feb. 22. Ford has more than 7 million vehicles on the road with Sync using Microsoft voice-activated software to make mobile-phone calls and play music.

The switch may help Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, address customer complaints about malfunctioning technology systems and touch screens that have hurt it in surveys by J.D. Power & Associates and Consumer Reports. For BlackBerry, it’s a vote of support for a company that lost 95 percent of its value from mid-2008 to November and saw the collapse of a proposed $4.7 billion buyout.

“This would be a huge infusion of trust and confidence to have BlackBerry and QNX expanding into a Ford,” Thilo Koslowski, auto analyst for researcher Gartner Inc. in Santa Clara, California, said Sunday. “This is really the crown jewel in BlackBerry’s crown and could make the rest of the company shine as well.”

Since becoming BlackBerry’s CEO on Nov. 4, John Chen cited software such as QNX and the BlackBerry Messenger service as assets he will look to capitalize on. Predecessor Thorsten Heins spoke often during his tenure for the potential of QNX to play a role in machine-to-machine settings such as cars interacting with parking meters.

  • Microsoft: Lenovo to make Windows phone

Lenovo, which operates its executive headquarters in Morrisville and ranks No. 5 globally in smartphone sales, is one of nine partners who will manufacturer Windows phones.

So says Microsoft.

Eight other manufacturers, including ZTE Corp. and LG Electronics Inc., plan to add Windows Phone devices to their offering, Microsoft said yesterday. Samsung Electronics Co., HTC Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co. also make Windows phones.

Meanwhile, Lenovo rolled out its own lineup of new “S” phones and an updated Yoga tablet at the mobile show.

  • Microsoft  Targets Cheaper Phones for Global Internet Growth

Microsoft, under new Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella, will accelerate a push into mobile software, joining forces with hardware manufacturers and Qualcomm to develop cheaper phones for emerging markets.

Microsoft said Sunday it’s working with Qualcomm on a low-cost phone design that developers and handset makers can use to build their own devices, and added partners including Lenovo Group Ltd. to make Windows smartphones. Nokia Oyj, whose mobile- phone business will become part of Microsoft, unveiled lower- priced handsets at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today.

Trailing Apple and Google in more sophisticated devices, Microsoft is now trying to build market share for its Windows operating system from the bottom up. Cheaper smartphones mean consumers in less-developed countries will have a chance to use the Internet for the first time, a fast-growing market that’s also attracting rivals such as Google, maker of the Android operating system.

“Microsoft can be more healthy by widening our ecosystem,” Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft vice president, said at the Barcelona event. “We care a ton about emerging markets.”

Microsoft and Qualcomm are designing a basic core of a phone with the necessary processors and wireless chips that developers can start with as they design Windows phones for emerging markets. Microsoft also plans to update its Windows 8.1 software and Windows Phone software this spring, helping it target lower-priced devices, Belfiore said.

  • WhatsApp To Add Voice to Messaging Service

WhatsApp, the popular messaging service for smartphones acquired this week by Facebook, will soon be offering a voice service.

CEO Jan Koum said the voice service will be deployed for Android and iPhones this spring, with Blackberry and Microsoft and Nokia phones coming later.

“We are going to introduce voice in WhatsApp in the second quarter of this year,” Koum said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. “I think we have the best voice product out there. We use the least amount of bandwidth.”

WhatsApp currently has a voice function but only in note form. This new service will be live.

Last Wednesday, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in a deal that is by far the biggest by the social networking company and any other done by Google, Microsoft or Apple.

Wearing a gray shirt, jeans and a black jacket, the 38-year-old Koum quipped – “last week we added a new Facebook friend. I don’t know if you guys heard.”

The blockbuster deal made serious waves with those in the telecommunications industry who gathered this week in the Catalan city, but also sparked concern among users that Facebook would introduce advertising to WhatsApp.

Koum insisted that there are no designs to add “marketing” to the messaging service.

  • Analyst Likes Cisco’s Latest Play

Daryl Schoolar, principal anlayst at research firm Ovum, likes Cisco’s revamped “small cell” portfolio for high-speed 4G wireless services. These devices focus on cell service in more narrow service areas.

“It comes as no surprise that Cisco announced that it had added LTE support to its small cell portfolio today. No serious small cell vendor can omit this technology from its product portfolio. Cisco will be adding LTE to three different small cell classes, the 7000 for large venues, 5000 for enterprise, and 3000 for the home.

“The company’s strategy remains the same, focusing on indoor deployments. Ovum believes this makes sense, as the indoor space appears to be a larger opportunity, at least in terms of shipments, than the outdoor space. Also Cisco’s lack of a macro cell isn’t as much of a drawback indoor as it would be if the vendor were to focus on outdoor metro deployments. The biggest surprise in the announcement was support for LTE femtocell – the USC 3331. Cisco has had prior femtocelll success in the past with AT&T, but has done little with femtos outside of that operator. This announcement signals Cisco believes the residential femto market opportunity is again an area worth investment.”