Ford to roll out Blackberry OS-based entertainment systems this summer

Sync 3 will be available via over-the-air software upgrades

16 ford esp sync3 03 hr 7

Ford's new Sync3 infotainment platform.

Credit: Ford

After announcing in December that it was dropping Microsoft's platform for Blackberry's QNX OS on its infotainment systems, Ford today said the first of the new systems will launch in 2016 models.

Ford said its new Sync 3 communications and entertainment system will first roll out in the 2016 Escape and Fiesta.

Both the new Escape SUV and compact hatchback Fiesta will be on sale this summer, and Sync 3 will migrate to all Ford vehicles in North America by the end of 2016.

The new system, which features all-new hardware and software, will have faster performance, conversational voice recognition, an intuitive smartphone-like touch screen and an easier-to-understand graphical interface, Ford said.

Tile-like icons dominate the interface, with a quick-access function tray along the bottom for a more straightforward user experience.

The new entertainment/communications system will also offer commands and smartphone-like gestures that including pinch-to-zoom and swipe, along with crisp, more modern graphics.

For example, phone contacts are searchable via a simple swipe of the finger to scroll through the alphabet. With One Box Search, users can look up points of interest or enter addresses in much the same way they use an Internet search engine.

With a simpler command structure, the new system will also minimize the number of steps needed to carry out commands, such as selecting music, making a call or searching for a destination.

Sync3 also includes a seamless integration of AppLink, Siri Eyes-Free capability, software updates via Wi-Fi and an enhanced, subscription-free 911 Assist.

The owner's Bluetooth-connected phone is used to dial 911 in the event of a significant accident - alerting first responders with vehicle location. With Sync 3, the car relays additional information - including if airbags deploy, whether the crash is front, side, rear or rollover, and the number of safety belts detected in use - to help emergency call-takers dispatch appropriate resources to the scene.

Why Ford dumped Windows

More than 12 million Sync-equipped vehicles on the road globally use the Windows Embedded Automotive operating system, which Ford has been using since 2007.

While Ford has declined to talk about why it made the switch from Windows, negative consumer and industry feedback likely played a significant role, according to analysts.

For example, Ford's Sync IVI system has never been recommended by Consumer Reports magazine.

By turning to the 25-year-old QNX platform, Ford gets a full community of developers to support and update its software. QNX also supports the ubiquitous HTML5 markup language and other native user interface toolsets.

Before being purchased by Blackberry in 2010, QNX Software Systems was owned by audio and infotainment equipment company Harman International. It's been used in more than 200 different car models, so it has been well vetted.

Other new features in Sync 3 include a more seamless integration of AppLink, which allows BlackBerry, iPhone and Android-based devices to run approved applications using the car's steering wheel buttons, radio or voice commands.

The new telematics system also allows Siri-voice activation capability for the Apple iPhone. Drivers can seek Siri's help by holding down Sync's Push to Talk steering wheel button, much as they would on an iPhone to initiate a Siri session.

Software updates will also be available via Wi-Fi (also known as over the air). Once a vehicle is set up with credentials for a home Wi-Fi network accessible in a customer's driveway or garage, it can automatically download updates.

AppLink allows users to connect their smartphone to their vehicle and control compatible apps using voice commands or buttons on the vehicle display screen.

AppLink automatically discovers smartphone apps, including Spotify, Pandora, Glympse, NPR One and iHeart Auto and displays each app's unique graphics and branding. Music and news apps are automatically displayed along with other media sources just like AM/FM or SiriusXM.

"Customers continue to tell us they want this technology, and they want it to be fast and easy to use - like a smartphone. Sync 3 delivers on that request," Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service, said in a statement.

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