Ford's SYNC Dashboard System Offers More Sophisticated Voice-Activated Controls

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Car manufacter Ford is getting attention with the introduction of its new, voice-activated SYNC dashboard system for making hands-free phone calls, getting traffic alerts and turn-by-turn directions, searching for and playing music, and listening to text messages. The system also includes 911 Assist for help in emergencies.

According to Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg, the very latest version of SYNC, dubbed MyFord Touch, is so far available in only two Ford models: the 2011 Ford Edge Limited SUV, and then Lincoln MKX. No doubt it will soon be rolled out to more vehicles in the company’s fleet. (On Ford’s website, the company lists 14 2011 models with SYNC, including the Escape, Focus, F-150 and Taurus.)

In its announcment of the new Sync, Ford said the system is geared toward Generation Y drivers — those born between 1981 and 1995. These customers find it unacceptable to be disconnected from mobile communications and entertainment just because they’re inside a car. And, while Ford acknowledges that the sophistication of in-car connectivity systems will continue to increase at a fast pace, the company believes it is the leading edge of this technology trend.

“Right now, Sync effectively combines the car with a user’s cellular phone and portable music device, and it does so at a very affordable price point,” said K. Prasad Venkatesh, group and technical leader at Ford’s Infotronics Research and Advanced Engineering department, in a statement to the media. “We are speaking to the most connected and smartest consumers out there. With Sync as the foundation as we go forward, the possibilities for future user-experiences is limitless.”

Prasad added: “With such an increase in computing power inside cars in just the past few years, the computing and communication capability of tomorrow’s automobile might begin to approach what’s available in our networked office environment today.”

So what makes MyFord Touch, specifically, better than previous versions of SYNC? Mossberg said the system includes a totally new dashboard interface, “with color-coded touch screens, better voice recognition and five-way control pads on the steering wheel.” These features make it easier, theoretically, to control climate settings inside the vehicle, and interface with in-car entertainment like music. The system also allows the user to set up a WiFi (News – Alert) network inside the vehicle.

Mossberg’s main complain with MyFord Touch is that its interface offers so many functions and options, it may be distracting to some drivers — at least until they get used to it.

“Anyone buying a car with MyFord Touch should always set up and configure it while parked, use voice commands whenever possible and avoid experimenting with new features and functions while driving,” Mossberg said in a Thursday report. “My advice is to learn these in the driveway, gradually.”

That sounds like good advice. After all, even a hands-free dashboard system can distract drivers from their most important task: safely navigating a vehicle down the road.

Mae Kowalke is a TMCnet contributor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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