Last week Ford invited journalists to their Melbourne HQ for the launch of Ford SYNC in Australia. The first vehicle in the country to feature the voice controlled SYNC technology is the 2012 Ford Focus. The voice-enabled system is launched with a pull of the dedicated SYNC trigger on the steering wheel. This is designed to keep your hands on the wheel while staying connected.
Ford SYNC is a platform built on top of Microsoft Automotive, an operating system for vehicles. Ford understands that you update your device far more frequently than your car. With this understanding, SYNC features will continue to grow over time. AppLink enables compatibility with smart phone apps like Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Sticher and OpenBeak to name a few. Ford are inviting developers to get in contact if they have ideas for apps that would work with the platform.
Development for the platform is pretty rudimentary at the moment. There’s no software simulator to test your application with, you need either the SYNC TDK (pictured below) or of course you could just buy car with SYNC. Given all apps so far are free, the revenue opportunities on the platform aren’t clear. Given it benefits Ford to expand SYNC functionality, it’d be in their best interest to financially incentivise developers.
How to use
SYNC voice commands are given after the familiar Boing! sound alert. Like any good modern voice enabled software, there’s no lengthy training to do before use, just get straight into it. At first it seems like you need to give commands at each menu level making operation slow and painful. In reality advanced users don’t need to wait for SYNC lady to finish before giving another command (150 supported).
Microphones in the Focus are located on the roof between the driver and passenger so either could take control. If you’d prefer to control the menus using touch rather than voice, you can do that as well. There’s duplicate buttons on the dash and steering wheel.
If you would like to use commands like ‘call Contact Name’, you’ll need to download your phonebook to the car first. You can delete this at any time, but due to Mobile-OS restrictions Ford can’t access the contact list directly.
To play music from your device, you can either connect the device via USB or stream it wirelessly via Bluetooth. If you want track names to be displayed on the screen, then you’ll need the hard wired connection. The benefit of this method is of course that your device charges while playing.
If you’re reading this and sold on the idea but concerned about device support, let me ease your concerns. Ford SYNC actually has a very impressive list of supported devices, ranging through various models from Apple, Blackberry, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony. To see the full list of devices and features supported, check out Ford.com.au/sync
Sadly most popular phones aren’t supporting SMS text messaging. This is a big disappointment given one of SYNC’s biggest potential safety benefits is to allow hands-free sending and receiving of texts while driving. On Ford Australia’s website, they have the following message “Local laws may prohibit the use of this feature while driving. Check your local road rules.”
Without Wi-Fi built in, SYNC updates will require an downloaded on the computer, transferred to a USB drive which then gets plugged into your car, and the System Update option chosen from the menus. Basically its the old sneaker net method. For such an advanced system, this seems pretty archaic, especially when you consider most garage’s are within Wi-Fi range when at home. Of course the other option would be to use that 3G phone you just connected to SYNC.
Every Ford vehicle that has SYNC comes with a free 000 emergency service. This means that if the vehicle detects it has been in a serve accident (i.e. air bags deployed), after 10 seconds it will dial emergency services for assistance. This is great in the event the driver is unconscious. The SYNC lady will allow to cancel via voice in the event assistance isn’t necessary. If things are bad, the car will provide GPS co-ordinates to the operator and open a direct audio line to the vehicle so they can hear passengers in the event they are able to speak, but immobile. This is an amazing feature that should become standard in all vehicles in the future.
While Ford couldn’t confirm the next vehicle to have SYNC in Australia, the vision is to roll it out across the line to every vehicle with a Ford badge. SYNC can also have an in-dash touchscreen known as MyFord Touch which was first offered in the 2011 Ford Edge in the United States. Ford projects an additional 9 million vehicles will be equipped with SYNC by 2015.
Part of the explanation for the delay was the difficulties associated with recognising the nuances of the Australian accent. Ford worked with voice experts Nuance to adapt the system to digest our clumsy interpretation of English. Check out the video below to see it in action.
We first seen Ford SYNC in January of 2011 at the North American International Auto show in Detroit. It has taken a year and half to make it to Australian shores but we’re glad it’s here. Other manufacturers are now building on the Windows Auto platform so the race is on. It’s certainly not an Apple-level experience yet, but if Ford do invest heavily in SYNC, it has the fundamentals to be a transformative automotive experience.