Mobile apps for Pandora and Stitcher, specially developed for in-car use, will be among the first to be supplied to users of Ford's all-new MyFord Touch system, Ford announced today at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Ford says that its appropriate that these two will be among the first. Pandora says, surprisingly, that 55 percent of its users listen in the car at least sometimes, while 40 percent of Stitcher users listen in the car. Pandora is a user-adaptive music player, and Stitcher is creates personalized news content from major-media sources, also with adaptive features.
The next-generation interface, called MyFord Touch, includes infotainment options, mobile data services, enhanced voice command, and a greatly improved, iPhone-like interface that wraps it all in with vehicle functions. And it will arrive before some main-line automakers even get a system on par with the first-gen system Ford introduced more than two years ago.
If you're thinking MyFord Touch will only be offered on the most expensive Fords, or the large cars, you're wrong. By 2015, Ford says, 80 percent of its North American models will get the system. The company has already revealed that the 2011 Ford Edge and 2011 Lincoln MKX (MyLincoln Touch) will get it, with the all-new 2012 Ford Focus that's highly anticipated for next week's Detroit show slated to get it as well.
The newer version of Sync is so sophisticated that its voice-control functions will play well with apps. For instance, Ford demonstrated that drivers will be able to say, "Pandora, play station Jessica Stone radio," or "Launch Stitcher, play station 'Technology.'" The improved voice-recognition and syntax of the new system will allow a great deal of flexibility.
And it sounds like many more apps are on the way. Ford's strategy for MyFord Touch was to leave development open; the automaker even went so far as to create a Software Development Kit (SDK) for the system, and the platform allows developers access to buttons and hotkeys as well as to the touch-screen. Most touch-screen entries will be blocked when the vehicle is at speed, for safety, encouraging those voice prompts.
Ford says that it took Pandora and Stitcher less than ten days to develop their MyFord Touch apps.
Already, Ford has formed several important partnerships, including one with the University of Michigan, to look at popular iPhone apps and help develop a shortlist of which ones would be best for Sync. Through its American Journey 2.0 program, students are looking at how to incorporate vehicle variables to communicate with social media in a way that's helpful to drivers. For instance noting that windshield wipers or fog lamps indicate rain in a particular area. In the spirit of Ford's new attitude, the winner will get a trip to the DIY-tech-focused Maker Faire.
Delivery of new apps should also be relatively easy, as Ford has decided to leverage existing mobile app stores instead of using its own. Ford's strategy will be to let drivers use their own phone and their own data plan.
In the works? The sky's the limit, really, but Ford has said that a second-party Twitter interface will launch early on, while an RSS reader (yes, a voice reader) and some type of browser are on the way. Expect lots of location-based services as well for restaurants, gas stations, traffic, and everything in between.
Ford has the apps for Pandora and Stitcher running on the CES show floor for demonstration.
Expansion of voice-control functions seemed like a natural choice, considering, as Ford CEO Alan Mulally mentioned in his CES keynote address, the recent results of naturalistic driver-distraction studies suggesting that voice control reduced accidents and close calls. More than 60 percent of current Sync owners use its voice capabilities for music, calling, and text messaging.
According to CEO Alan Mulally, in his keynote address this morning at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the company's emphasis on technology and connectivity is paying off. Thirty-two percent of customers surveyed indicated that Sync was critical or imp in purchase, and 81 percent of heavy Sync users are satisfied with the system, he reported. Meanwhile, 76 percent would recommend to a friend.
As for satellite radio-based services, and how they might continue to fit into the picture, we'll have to get back to you on that one...