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Ford hopes to put MyFord Touch criticism behind it with new Sync 3 system

Update: One more important detail is Ford’s switch from Microsoft to BlackBerry, now noted below.

Ford’s Sync with MyFord Touch was one of the first branded automotive infotainment, but that doesn’t mean it’s been well received.

While Ford offers the system on nearly every vehicle it makes, it hasn’t been able to quell complaints about complicated and sometimes-clunky interfaces.

So for its new system, Ford decided to make some big changes, including dropping the MyFord Touch name. Welcome to Sync 3.

The new system ditches the old Microsoft framework for BlackBerry’s QNX operating system, so it really is new both inside and out.

Ford Sync 3

To make things easier for people – who have to operate the system and a motor vehicle at the same time, remember – Ford added smartphone-like pinch-and-zoom gesture controls to the touchscreen. It also claims to have improved the screen’s responsiveness, which was a common criticism of previous systems.

Menu buttons are now large tiles with simple graphics, primarily using black type on a white background for easier reading. The home screen is broken up into three zones: Audio, Navigation, and Phone.

Drivers can now scroll through their contact lists with one finger, and there’s a “one-box” search feature for navigation that’s supposed to mirror Internet search-engine boxes.

Voice recognition is naturally part of the package as well, and Ford says the new version doesn’t require as many rigid commands.

To play music, a person just has to say “play” and the artist, album, or song title. The search function also  recognizes some colloquial place names, so suers don’t have to remember full names. Ford will also add Siri Eyes Free for iPhone users.

Speaking of smartphones, the Sync AppLink feature returns as part of the new system. Like many system now peddled by carmakers, it uses Sync-specific versions of certain apps for hands-free control of phone functions.

Available apps include Pandora, Stitcher, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. Ford says the Sync 3 version is faster than before, and can more easily, err, sync with a phone’s apps.

One last notable feature is the addition of over-the-air software updates, for an additional bit of smartphone-like convenience.

Sync 3 will appear on new Ford vehicles next year.

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Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
Five things that would make Sync with MyFord Touch better

Ford is updating its Sync voice recognition and MyFord Touch infotainment systems yet again.
Ford isn’t doing this just for fun. The system has received a hail of criticism since Ford began cramming it into car dashboards several years ago, leading the Blue Oval to release a software update last year. However, MyFord Touch 2.0 didn’t fare much better, receiving vitriolic criticism in Consumer Reports and more negativity elsewhere.
According to the Detroit News, Ford’s latest update, available for download next week, will reportedly address issues with touchscreen sensitivity and will streamline voice recognition as well as smartphone pairing. Will that be enough to fix the system’s flaws? Here are five things that would make Sync and MyFord Touch better.
Make the voice recognition smarter
Sync’s major innovation was voice recognition, allowing it to send text messages dictated by the driver, play music, and perform other tasks just by asking. Usually. Voice recognition is widely viewed as a possible solution to the issue of distracted driving, because it (theoretically) allows drivers to operate complex infotainment systems while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
However, Sync doesn’t respond to simple commands. It doesn’t have the naturalistic ability to recognize variants of commands and, although Ford has built in a couple of shortcuts, it still sometimes requires multiple vocal cues to do one task like play a song. It should be as simple as "play Black Dog" or "play The Shins." Maybe a dedicated music button on the steering wheel might help simplify things.
It’s not all bad: drivers can already tell Sync to call a contact just by saying the person’s name. If Ford can get the rest of Sync to work this smoothly, it could also turn over more functions to voice recognition, ultimately making the entire process less distracting.
Improve responsiveness
While voice recognition can be used for some functions, nearly everything on MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles is controlled through a touchscreen on the center stack. However, the screen itself may not be up to the task.
MyFord Touch screens are known for being slow and clunky. Pressing the screen doesn’t always elicit an immediate response, or a virtual “button” could be actuated multiple times from a seemingly normal amount of pressure. It’s more like an old ATM than the infotainment interface of the future.
Moving the majority of controls to a touchscreen is one thing, but that screen needs to function as perfectly as any analog interface to be worthwhile. The lag is a particular nuisance while driving, when control inputs need to be as quick and simple as possible.
Improved touchscreen responsiveness is reportedly one of the improvements coming with Ford’s software update, and not a moment too soon. So we'll see how it turns out.
Streamline the interface
Another major source of criticism has been centered around the home screen’s layout.
The home screen is divided into four quadrants, for phone, navigation, audio, and climate. Currently, drivers have to touch a specific spot on each quadrant to access a particular menu, although Ford’s software update will allow them to touch anywhere in the quadrant to gain access. That's a step forward.
Why stop there though? There are other things Ford could do to make the interface more user-friendly.
Allowing drivers to move the quadrants around, putting the ones they use most closer to hand, would be a nice customization touch. Reaching across the dashboard to touch the screen is already inconvenient; some customization would be a small change that could make a big difference.
Ford could also do away with the quadrants altogether. This would eliminate one step in accessing a certain function: instead of having to press the screen to pull up a menu, MyFord Touch could bring that menu up first. Many other carmakers do this, producing infotainment menus that have more than four buttons but are still legible.
Of course, the more selection options, the more likely it is that the user will hit the wrong button, especially if he or she has big fingers. Which brings us to the next improvement...
Give drivers an analog backup
The stock automotive tech narrative goes like this: People are demanding more tech in their cars, but the number of switches and buttons required to control all of this new stuff is ruining the look of dashboards and making life very complicated for drivers who need to focus on the road ahead. The solution? Touchscreens.
It sounded good in theory, but the issues Ford and other carmakers like Cadillac have been having with their touchscreens shows that it isn’t exactly working in practice. The great thing about physical switchgear is that users can rely on muscle memory, and there’s physical feedback, which makes it easier to use without looking away from the road.
A touchscreen alone won’t cut it; more switchgear would make a good, reliable backup. Everyone knows how to push a button and turn a dial, but getting used to MyFord Touch’s sensitive screen can be frustrating, especially while on the move.
Ford could also consider adding a controller, keeping the functions on the screen but allowing drivers to make selections without having to constantly poke it. Lexus and Mercedes both use this approach to good effect.
Make Lincoln’s version different
Ford’s software update will also cover the MyLincoln Touch the Blue Oval installs in its luxury cars. However, the system is very similar to what entry-level Ford buyers get and that’s a problem for car buyers expecting a more premium product.
MyLincoln Touch’s main distinguishing feature is capacitive sliders for the audio; a cool gimmick, but not enough to distinguish one brand from the other.
Ford could take a page from rival General Motors, which has made an effort to differentiate the MyLink system it installs in entry-level Chevrolets from the CUE system in luxury Cadillacs, despite criticisms of the CUE system.
Ford needs to give customers a reason to upgrade to a Lincoln and making a big change (hopefully for the better) on the tech front is a great way to do that. After all, what’s the point of having choices if they’re all the same?
Got something you’d like to see changed in the next version of Sync with MyFord Touch - or in any in-car tech interface? Tell us in the comments.

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An ‘Old School’ Touch: Ford adds more traditional knobs to MyTouch infotainment system

When it comes to in-car technology, Ford is learning that multi-touch screens aren’t everything.
Buried deep in an official Ford press release highlighting the growth of Ford’s infotainment system, is news that the use of more traditional buttons and knobs featured with the MyTouch system in the F-150 will likely be making its way into other Ford vehicles.
The move comes as little surprise considering, that despite the appeal of the Ford’s high-tech infotainment system, it’s been criticized for being a little too distracting for the typical driver.
In 2011, both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports heavily criticized Ford for MyFord Touch because the touch-screen interface, voice-activated controls, and other aspects of the system were too confusing for users, as noted in a Brand Channel report.
J.D Power even dropped Ford as one of its top auto brands in its annual Initial Quality Survey to a below-average brand because of the quality of the system.
Ford’s recent release indicates that MyTouch quality has improved by 50 percent since its launch in 2010 and that the system featured in the F-150 has the highest rate of quality satisfaction, at 86 percent.
Compared to other carmakers, Ford’s infotainment systems have always tended to have issues that over the years, has fueled what has come to seem like a never-ending cycle of updates for the system.
Still, the appeal of Sync and MyFord Touch is undeniable – even with the criticism the systems have faced in the past.  
According to Ford, SYNC and MyFord Touch sold on nearly 80 percent of 2013 Ford vehicles, double the sales mix of infotainment systems sold with Toyota and Honda vehicles, and up from 68 percent in 2012.
In fact, Ford might have one of the most highly recognizable brands in the U.S. when it comes to in-car technology compared to some of the of the other carmaker’s infotainment systems.
Although, some will likely contend that the brand recognition is due to the issues associated with Ford’s in-car technology more than anything else. But it’s still been a great selling point for the carmaker.
Now, the question is:  Will a MyTouch system with more traditional buttons and knobs keep people as excited about the technology after Ford has locked them into the deal?   

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Ford’s MyKey technology is an onboard babysitter for teens driving solo

If given the option now, I imagine a lot of those eager to drive teens would probably prefer it if their parents didn’t buy a new Ford.
With a focus on keeping teens safe behind the wheel, Ford has announced that its Ford MyKey technology, which enables parents to place limits on some in-car features, is now standard on six million Ford vehicles.    
The MyKey system includes a number of different features such as Persistent Ford Belt-Minder that mutes the radio to remind teens to buckle up, according to an official Ford press release.  A message on the instrument panel is also displayed: “Buckle Up to Unmute Radio”
MyKey also enables parents to limit the volume of an audio system to 44 percent of the radio’s maximum output. In addition, there’s a feature that activates a chime at 45, 55 and 65 mph to remind teens to slow down. The system allows parents to limit the top speed of Ford vehicle to 80 mph as well.
However, perhaps the most feared MyKey feature for teens is one called “Do Not Disturb” that enables parents to block incoming phone calls and hold text messages on a phone paired with Ford SYNC when teens are driving.  
The MyKey system, which can be activated by inserting a special coded key into the ignition with a transponder chip, also gives teens an extra warning at 75 miles to remind a teen driver to fill up in addition  to the typical warnings displayed when the fuel level reaches 25 and 50 miles to empty.
Andy Sarkisian, Ford safety planning and strategy manager, said, however, the technology is more about keeping teens safe than under control.
“MyKey is about love. said Sarkisian, who has two teen daughters. It’s about helping your children manage the transition from childhood to adulthood, and keeping them safer while they do it.”
 According to Ford’s analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, teen driver fatalities increase every month beginning in May before declining in September.

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