Ford's new SYNC will be more like your smartphone

Ford’s in-car infotainment system is getting an overhaul with SYNC 3, which will add a capacitive touch screen, better integration with smartphone apps and, eventually, support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

SYNC 3 will initially launch in a small lineup of vehicles rolling off assembly lines in 2015. Ford plans to have it available across its full North America line by the end of 2016.

While there are currently 10 million vehicles on the road with SYNC, none of them will get the new version of the service.

“It’s both a hardware and software update,” said Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicle and services.

The biggest hardware change will be moving from resistive touch screens to capacitive ones. The new capacitive screens will be an experience most people are familiar with from tablets and smartphones. It allows for multitouch, pinch-to-zoom and requires light taps to activate on-screen buttons. Resistive touch displays, while cheaper to make, are typically more difficult and restrictive to use. They don’t support multitouch and heavier pressure is needed to activate the screen.

Apple iPhone users that have their phones connected to the car via Bluetooth will be able to activate the Siri voice assistant by pressing a button on the steering wheel. Google Now, the Android equivalent, will not be available.

While not available during the initial rollout, Butler said the ability to mirror the screen from your smartphone for some functions will become available later. While SYNC is an upgrade that will cost car buyers more money, in-car navigation is often an additional premium on top of SYNC. With more drivers using their smartphones for navigation, Ford said that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto projection will be a software update coming in the future.

The new cars with SYNC 3 will also have a WiFi receiver for software updates. The process for updating SYNC now includes downloading an update, putting it on a USB flash drive and plugging it into the car. The WiFi receiver will let drivers update the car’s software using their home wireless network when parked in the driveway—assuming the home’s network is in range.

An updated AppLink will give drivers better control of their smartphone apps from the car’s display. For example, drivers listening to Pandora will be able to thumb up or down songs from the dashboard display.

Under development for about 18 months, Butler said Ford took input from about 22,000 customer feedback surveys.

SYNC first debuted in 2007. It is Ford’s voice-based, in-car infotainment system, designed to keep driver’s eyes on the road. Using a button on the steering wheel, drivers can activate SYNC, which will prompt drivers for a voice command. Drivers can lower the temperature, change radio station or make phone calls. Phones are paired via Bluetooth. Drivers can also accept incoming calls using SYNC. The new version of the service uses a Texas Instruments OMAP 5 processor running the QNX operating system.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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