By Mark Kleis
Thursday, Jan 7th, 2010 @ 4:33 am
 
Ford has unveiled an unexpected comprehensive overhaul to its driver interface system, Sync, at the world's consumer electronics show known as CES. Leftlane compiled a necessarily lengthy and thorough break down of Ford's new MyFord technology, how it relates to the already popular Sync and what it changes.


History of Ford Sync
Prior to the latest releases by Ford concerning their vehicle's interface technology systems, Ford was already considered to be one of the industry leaders thanks to the success of Sync. Sync first launched as a fairly basis user interface system that was meant to provide users to navigate menus via voice command, rather than by physically adjusting dials or buttons.

Ford's initial launch of Sync was based largely on the Bluetooth connectivity function and the iPod interface functionality. Sync was relatively basic - but it worked, it was generally easy to use, and it was relatively inexpensive ($395 option). This was in 2008, first launched on the youth-oriented Ford Focus - now available across the entire Ford portfolio.

Across several down-loadable updates (free), Ford has updated Sync to a 2.0, and then a 3.0 version. In these updates came the addition of turn-by-turn navigation with the Traffic, Directions and Information Services feature pack. Ford also added 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Reports were also added.

The next wave of user-interface technology from Ford - MyFord -
Now, just one week into 2010, Ford has released a suite of new technologies based around something it is calling "MyFord Touch." MyFord is essentially an extension of the original Sync concept into the realm of factory-integrated user interfacing, but adds LCD screens (up to three depending on options) for added data output and advanced functionality.

Navigation to be standard on MyFord/Sync-equipped vehicles
With the introduction of this new system, Ford becomes the first automaker to offer a navigation system that competes with the ease of use and upgradability of hand-held navigation devices - without requiring the purchase of an expensive navigation system upgrade or external devices.

Map-based SD card navigation builds upon SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information. The current system leverages voice-recognition software, integrated GPS technology and a Bluetooth-capable mobile phone to deliver personalized traffic reports, precise turn-by-turn directions and up-to-date information including business listings, news, sports and weather - without the need for a built-in navigation system.

MyFord Touch navigation upgrade
In addition to the standard turn-by-turn navigation offered with MyFord and Sync, MyFord Touch adds two 4.2-inch LCD screens into the instrument panel and utilizes an 8-inch touch-screen in the center stack.

"Instead of just a voice telling drivers where to turn, there will now be visual cues in the form of street names, directional arrows and distance markers integrated right into the MyFord instrument cluster display," said Jim Buczkowski, Ford director of electronics and electrical systems engineering.

Sync incorporates WiFi connectivity and custom web-browser
MyFord will also incorporate a custom, webkit-based Internet browser that Ford says is designed to take advantage of the built-in 8-inch LCD touch screen. Using the browser on the in-dash screen allows drivers and passengers to navigate to their favorite sites whenever the vehicle is in "Park" and an Internet connection is available via WiFi or mobile broadband.

"We looked at off-the-shelf browsers but nothing was quite right for the in-car application," said Sukhwinder Wadhwa, manager of SYNC technologies and platforms. "So we took the best ideas from each, leveraged open source software, and tailored ours to provide a rich, customized browser that is ideal for our customers and the new MyFord Touch interface."

Ford adds 'Send to Sync' service
For users who may prefer navigating the internet from the comfort of their own home, the Sync Traffic, Direction and Information app now allows users to map out travel destinations with MapQuest, and then have the information sent to their Ford vehicle via mobile phone.

"With the enormous growth in navigation system popularity, we want to make life simpler for our customers," said Doug VanDagens, Ford director of connected services solutions. "With Send to SYNC, you can search a destination while you're at work, at the coffee shop or home - wherever you have connectivity. When you get to your car, it already knows where you want to go."

Ford also points out that this service will be available late 2010 as a down-loadable upgrade for users with existing 2010 Sync-equipped Ford vehicles.

MyFord Touch interface, layout and controls
MyFord Touch uses two 4.2-inch full-color LCD screens flanking an analog speedometer and an 8-inch touch-screen LCD at the top of the center stack in order to visually display information. A five-way switch on each side of the steering wheel crossbar - designed to be similar to the one found on most mobile phones - controls the information displayed on the corresponding instrument panel screens. Ford says that they have retained the traditional automotive interior layout, while simultaneously enhancing the amount of information that can be safely accessed from the driver's seat.

"The steering wheel has all the necessary functions available in a very compact area, right where your hand falls as you grab the wheel," said Jason Johnson, Ford user interface design engineer.

Additional (available) 8-inch touch-screen and display
In addition to the two smaller LCD screens, there is an optional 8-inch touch-screen center stack display which Ford says is the key interface on MyFord Touch. Designers employed a four-corner solution for its layout, representing the four activities most important to customers: phone, navigation, climate and audio/entertainment functions.

Regardless of what menus customers are viewing, a single touch on the appropriate corner will bring up the desired functionality. Ford also says that in most cases, a voice command also can be used to adjust the controls.

Hardware changes and additional connectivity
Ford has added a second USB port, for a total of two USB 2.0 ports to the Sync system. The second major change was the addition of an SD memory card slot. Many aftermarket (and some OEM) navigation systems rely on DVDs to provide mapping, which Ford says could take hours to fully load. Other vehicles utilize traditional hard drives, which can be damaged in the automotive environment due to heat or vibrations, and lack mobility.

Ford says, "With SYNC and MyFord Touch, if you need a map update, you take the old SD card out of the Media Hub and pop in a new one. It'll be the first time an automaker will offer something that competes with the cost and ease of personal navigation devices."

MyFord and vehicle personalization
Part of the MyFord system's intentions are to allow users to be personalize different aspects of the vehicle itself. MyFord now allows users to set custom wallpapers for the information screens, program custom buttons and shortcuts, access to climate controls and select-ability for which information is being displayed on each of the (up to) three screens. Ford also allows for drivers to program custom settings according to different keys - allowing shared vehicles to retain custom settings based on the key being used.

Additional changes to Sync
In addition to the major changes brought with MyFord, Ford says it has also spent time upgrading many aspects of the user interface system itself, as well as the voice recognition software. Ford says the changes will provide for more intuitive navigation and faster, more accurate voice recognition.

Ford has also embraced open source coding to interface with Sync, and already has partners in Pandora, OpenBeak (formerly TwitterBerry) and Stitcher - all of which will interface both ways with Sync equipped vehicles.