Ford Sync Powered by Microsoft

By Jonathan Spira on 15 October 2008
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Sync, available in Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury cars, is without question the most advanced in-car infotainment technology I’ve ever used.  Developed by Microsoft, Sync provides hands-free voice-activated control over phone (via Bluetooth) and music (via Bluetooth or a USB cable).Ford Sync(TM) Navagation

Sync is Microsoft’s second major automotive product: the first, Blue&Me, is similar to Sync and is offered in Fiat and Alfa vehicles.

Vehicle owners can download updates and new features via the Web and transfer these to the car via a USB drive.

When you press the voice command button, Sync presents a menu of top level commands on the display screen including navigation, phone, and various entertainment functions, as well as climate control.

Sync uses text-to-speech technology to allow the driver to speak the name of a music track or artist; this works remarkably well.  I tested it with German and Italian titles as well as English and it got everything right.

My biggest complaint about Sync was its lack of proper support for podcasts; unlike other top-level categories in an iPod (Artist, Genre, etc.), there is no entry for podcasts on the Sync menu, so finding them was and will be a challenge.  A lesser issue is that the repeat function stays on even after you turn the car off and back.

A new 911 Assist feature will call 911 automatically in the event of an air bag-deploying accident and play a pre-recorded message.  The system uses the driver’s mobile phone so there is no monthly fee; on the flip side, this means that, if the phone is off or forgotten, unlike with systems from BMW, GM, and Mercedes, an emergency call will not go through.  Because Sync is software-based, the 911 Assist feature can be added to older cars with Sync.

Ford is also introducing a Vehicle Health Report that drivers can request using voice commands.  The Sync system conducts a check of over two dozen systems including major vehicle control modules and the results are available to the driver via the Web site.  The Sync system will also remind owners about necessary maintenance.

The new features should be available before the end of the year.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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