Ford's MyFord Touch infotainment system is going the way of Windows XP--an ironic parallel, since Ford [NYSE:F] is also ditching Microsoft code as it ushers in a third-generation infotainment system dubbed Sync 3.
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The new system skips the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch names used in North America in favor of the umbrella Sync nameplate, which it's used elsewhere around the world.
Sync first emerged on the 2007 Ford Focus, with the MyFord Touch component making its debut in the 2009 Ford Flex. While the Bluetooth-controlled smartphone connectivity of Sync was well-received, MyFord Touch was not. Not since the first iteration of iDrive was there a more maligned infotainment system. With its cluttered screens, laggy performance, and four-corners touch interface, it wasn't just poorly received--it has been cited widely as a reason for Ford's plummeting performance in J.D. Power quality surveys.
With Sync 3, Ford hopes to wash away the bad karma of MyFord Touch, and to remedy its two biggest problems--its responsiveness to touch commands, and its recognition of voice commands.
The new system is built on BlackBerry’s improved QNX system. QNX code powers the award-winning Chrysler UConnect infotainment systems, and in screen layout, the new Sync 3 system follows that layout fairly closely, though with softer, lighter-toned palette.
Chrysler has been said to be dropping the QNX platform in the near future. Ford says it has no exclusive to use the code.
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Sync 3's new features
Ford says it's gotten input from 22,000 users of its current systems in order to launch this new infotainment interface. That input includes everything from bug fixes to new features--one of the most requested being smartphone-style navigation. Sync 3 can be operated on-screen with familiar gestures like swiping and pinch-to-zoom. Faster graphics performance comes from a higher-grade processor.
Voice recognition is said to be vastly improved over MyFord Touch's sometimes hapless interface. Natural-language patterns can be recognized and executed: say "play" and identify an artist, a channel, or a device, and the system responds quickly, Ford says. The voice improvements also help speed up navigation input; shorthand commands like "Detroit airport" now are understood more easily and quickly.
Sync 3 also integrates Siri Eyes Free, via the steering-wheel talk button, and various mobile-enabled apps like Spotify, Stitcher, Pandora, and iHeartRadio Auto.
In the future, Ford says it may move to a navigation feature for Sync 3 that uses the smartphone's apps--Google Maps in particular--to deliver location and mapping functionality.
Upgrading and not upgrading
Ford has also added more channels for updating Sync 3 firmware. Now done for Sync 2 and Sync via a USB plug-in or a dealer visit, Sync 3 can be updated over a home wireless network, and Ford is working to make updates available over cellular networks. The only current Fords with in-car data service are the C-Max family and the Lincoln MKC, though other Lincoln vehicles are scheduled to receive the feature soon.
Like previous versions of Sync it also has the 911 Assist function that uses your phone to automatically call emergency services in the event of a crash. With Sync 3, the car relays additional information, including if airbags were deployed, the type of crash (front, side, rear or rollover) and the number of safety belts detected in use.
Sync 3 will be introduced to Ford vehicles starting from next year, and will be in every Ford vehicle by the end of 2016.
Ford says Microsoft continues to be a partner, but confirms there is no Microsoft code in its new Sync system. It confirms only that it will announce future plans with the Seattle tech giant soon.
As for the 10 million cars equipped with older versions of Sync and MyFord Touch? Ford says drivers of those vehicles will be able to update their systems with regular software updates and patches delivered via USB or a dealer update. But they will not be eligible to upgrade to Sync 3, since it uses a faster core processor.
"The upgrade path is a new vehicle," said Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicles and services.--John Voelcker with Marty Padgett___________________________________________