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The 2012 Ford Explorer

MyFord Touch looks about the same as before, but under the hood its dramatically improved in voice control.

The infamous "I'm hungry" command works!

Sports scores were quick and easy to check...

We catch the system drawing a blank after one of its reboots...
Issues with rebooting remain, a small, but present problem

DailyTech just wrapped up a week with Ford Motor Company's (F) MyFord Touch system aboard a fully-load 2012 Ford Explorer.  To give a quick executive summary, this was a great looking SUV and enjoyable drive.  When it comes to the MyFord Touch infotainment system, I witnessed a drastic improvement, but one familiar issue (reboots) still proved a bit of a nuisance.

I. MyFord Touch: Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

Last time I used MyFord Touch (MFT) I rated it a C-, in that I felt it had numerous rough edges that regressed the experience from the finely polished Sync system we had previously enjoyed.

This time around I'd give the system a solid 
A-, and add that in its current form the best comprehensive infotainment solution currently available, hands down.

So what made the system so much better this time around?  A series of updates have dramatically improved the speed of animations and the voice recognition system, which struggled at launch.

When navigating menus the difference is subtle, but noticeable.  The transition from one screen to the next feels faster and the slight pauses of the original implementation have disappeared.  The system still looks the same, but these improvements made controlling MyFord Touch much fluid.

But the most dramatic makeover has been on the voice command front.  The car is now capable of recognizing a number of similar commands for core functionality, such as increasing the temperature.  For example it recognized ("Climate", then...) "Make it hotter", "Temperature Increase", and "Temperature Up".  This is in marked contrast to before, where it didn't seem to recognize either of the latter commands.

Further commands involving short words, which it previously had trouble with (e.g. "call mom" or "fm 88.5") it now seems much better at interpreting.  When calling my parents the system did not fail once this time, where as previously it did not succeed once (!).  Calling some friends, it also was able to call short names like "joe" and "bob", which it previously struggled on.

The infamous "I'm hungry" was also finally in action.  It loyally asked whether to search nearby or near destination (if navigating) and offered a list of different cuisines.  Again, this command failed several times when a Ford engineer 
tried to demo it to me at CES 2011, and again failed during my late April test drive of the Focus.

As a final note on the improvements, not only did the system seem to be able to recognize certain commands it could before, it also seemed to have improved in general voice recognition, as well.  Over the course of my test drive the voice commands I gave only failed two or three times over hundreds of tries, drastically less than the almost 40 percent failure rate we experienced in the launch version.

In short voice control (and animation) in MyFord Touch practically like a whole new system.  Clearly Ford engineers were hard at work pulling off some magic behind the scenes to return the system to the enjoyable experience we had with Sync.

II. Reboots -- Why, MFT, Why?

As of four days into my test drive I was gushing.  I hadn't experienced a single negative thus far.  That would soon change, when I started my car when driving home from my running buddy's home.  The system rebooted itself about two minutes after starting.  

At first I couldn't figure out what was going on.  Why was the temperature sensor displaying a blank value ("-- --")?  Why was the voice control not responding?  Why was the touch interface frozen?

Then the reboot hit.

Fortunately the system recovered itself with about a minute or so, making the problem just a minor inconvenience.  Granted climate and audio are both tied to the system, so the reboot temporarily killed my air conditioning (the fans powered off) and the radio (no volume).

About a day later when leaving home I was hit with a second reboot, just a minute into my drive.  Again the recovery was quick, but frustrating.

Then when the vehicle was about to be picked up, I was snagging some last minute pictures and lo and behold the system decided it had had enough and quit on my a third time.

I would caution condemning the system due to this issue, as it's more of an annoyance than a deal-breaker.  Still it’s something Ford desperately needs to figure out, as it's really the biggest remaining flaw in what is otherwise a remarkable system.

About the best insight I can provide to Ford's engineering team is that the reboot typically occurs around when the phone connects, during the first few minutes of the drive.

Speaking of the phone, that's my only other criticism, but I give it with a grain of salt.  I paired my Android phone with MFT and it connected properly.  I set the phone as the preferred device to automatically pair to, in the MFT interface.

When turning the vehicle on, though, it sometimes would lag as long as two or three minutes before finally completing the connection to my phone, despite my Bluetooth being on and seemingly ready.  My disclaimer here is that I don't know whether the issue is on Ford's end or is in the way the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" handles Bluetooth connection requests.

It's definitely something Ford should look into, though.

Between the phone pairing issues and the reboots, the first few minutes of the drive were often more of MyFord Touch were often much more frustrating than the otherwise blissful remainder of the drive.

III. Why the Critics are Wrong

While the rebooting issues are bothersome, I have to again opine that 
J.D. Power's quality downgrade of Ford on the basis of MyFord Touch and Consumer Report's scathing review of the system seem a bit unfair and off-base.

The system is completely easy to navigate for all but the most computer illiterate of users.  Anybody complaining about how hard it was to get to controls clearly has not spent almost any time trying to learn how to use the system and clearly has little technical knowledge.  These publications' complaints to that end are as ridiculous as complaining that people shouldn't drive manual transmissions because some uninformed driver doesn't give a single iota of effort and doesn't understand how to drive one.

Further the system is an optional add-on, so rating down vehicles due to your feelings on the infotainment system is as ridiculous as if an audiophile-type auto reviewer downgrade a vehicle based on their feelings on the premium sound system.

And as to the issue of driver distraction, let me just say the system allows you to voice control the vast majority of functions in its current form, so the only real distraction and at worst only requires a quick glance at the dash.  

Among smartphone users I know, if they were being honest virtually every one would admit to at least occasionally using their phone to check the internet, email, navigate, text, etc. while driving.  It's bad, but just about everyone does it.  MyFord Touch presents much of this information in a dramatically less distracting way.  Thus I would argue it's making the driving experience safer, overall.

MyFord Touch isn't perfect, but it's frustrating to me to see misinformation continue to be perpetuated by top consumer product quality publications.  

I would hope at the very least if they continue in this tact, however, that they're unilateral in their approach.  After all, the recent Blue&Me and Entune system 
I've tested seem much more clunky and less responsive than Ford's.  Thus I would expect them to garner at least as much criticism.  If they don't, beware -- there may be something foul afoot (e.g. the oft-accused payola).

90 percent of the time MyFord Touch is a great experience, thanks to the new improvements.  It reduces distraction, is easy to navigate and shows increasingly strong voice command prowess.  The system is unmatched in performance.  That said, the issue of reboots and slow connections to your Bluetooth-linked internet source (your phone) mar the experience somewhat, making it less than perfect.

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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By abscode on 9/4/11, Rating: 0
By tayb on 9/4/11, Rating: 0
By dark matter on 9/4/2011 1:02:55 PM , Rating: 4
Are you saying the 2-3 minutes it takes to reboot is longer than it takes you to put your groceries in the trunk?? Or are you going to claim you never get OUT of your car.

As the reboot happened at the START of each journey, what difference does 2-3 minutes actually make to you. You've only just got in the car.

Talk about sensationalism. The world is full of it these days.

Just remember, your great great grandaddy had to go to the river to do his washing. And you're pissed because you don't have climate control for a couple of minutes extra.

Sweet Jesus.

By abscode on 9/5/11, Rating: 0
By redav on 9/8/2011 12:54:05 PM , Rating: 2
Your comparison to washing in a river is poor. There is no other vehicle that has the A/C stop because an infotainment system reboots. In other words, every other car on the market does not have a problem with the A/C not working--why should we accept anything less in this one?

Simply put, we have radios that work perfectly--yet MFT doesn't. We have A/C units that work perfectly--yet MFT doesn't. We have phones that work perfectly--yet MFT doesn't. Accepting a device's flaws when there is no alternative is one thing; accepting a device's flaws when there ARE alternatives that don't have those shortcomings is something very different.

By dark matter on 9/4/2011 1:02:55 PM , Rating: 3
Are you saying the 2-3 minutes it takes to reboot is longer than it takes you to put your groceries in the trunk?? Or are you going to claim you never get OUT of your car.

As the reboot happened at the START of each journey, what difference does 2-3 minutes actually make to you. You've only just got in the car.

Talk about sensationalism. The world is full of it these days.

Just remember, your great great grandaddy had to go to the river to do his washing. And you're pissed because you don't have climate control for a couple of minutes extra.

Sweet Jesus.

By danjw1 on 9/4/2011 1:57:41 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, he said it takes "about a minute". If you get the remote start system, which is significantly less then the MyTouch system, you can have your car all cooled off before you even step into it.

By danjw1 on 9/4/2011 2:02:25 PM , Rating: 2
One more thing, the remote start system can be dealer installed so there isn't a good reason not to get it. So, if you are concerned about this, it should be easy and relatively east to fix. It only adds around $350 to the price.

By tayb on 9/4/2011 10:35:24 PM , Rating: 1
Remote starting your car and letting it "cool down" is absolutely horrendous for your engine. Why not just not do that and throw a golf ball at the windshield? It will cost you about the same in the long run.

By abscode on 9/4/2011 11:19:03 PM , Rating: 2
Not true with modern fuel injected engines, as long as the oil change schedule takes into account the extra running time (not indicated by the odometer).

If Apple made a car..
By dark matter on 9/4/2011 12:56:56 PM , Rating: 3
They would probably try and sue Ford for copying them.

RE: If Apple made a car..
By Shadowself on 9/4/11, Rating: 0
RE: If Apple made a car..
By drycrust3 on 9/4/2011 3:27:40 PM , Rating: 2
They would probably try and sue Ford for copying them.

Arrghhh! Now you've let the cat out of the bag. Look at the display: same shape as an iPad; look at the design of the vehicle (a top down view would show it infringes upon the Apple patent); look at the name: MyFord "Touch". See the problem: it infringes on the Apple "We invented it" patent.
Sorry Ford, but you'll need to redesign the Explorer, its interior, AND remove any touch sensitive control features before you can sell it.

The crashing is pretty pathetic
By tayb on 9/4/2011 10:23:59 AM , Rating: 2
This has been out on the market for at least 6-8 months now. Ford engineers are either incapable of debugging their own software, they just don't care that it is infrequently rebooting, or they've written (or licensed?) such a poorly written program that as soon as the plug one hole another appears.

From the sounds of this review and the improvements they have made to all other facets of the program I can come to no conclusion other than they simply do not care. I work as a software engineer and feature requests and/or improvements are ALWAYS on the back burner if there are major bugs to be fixed. Having a system that occasionally disables the air conditioning when it is 108 outside (and 130+ in your car) for over a minute is a MAJOR bug.

What makes this even more pathetic/embarrassing is that end users such as the author of this article seem to have a pretty good idea of what is causing the crash. Maybe I should submit my resume to Ford, sounds like they are in need of more programmers.

That's a shame.

By Shadowself on 9/4/2011 2:28:45 PM , Rating: 2
Having the entire system go down as regularly as reported has other impacts to.

Think of a rental car where you depend upon the navigation system to get you to that important first meeting. You don't have the luxury of having it go off-line right before that important turn -- then find out a minute or two later that you're a mile or two off course (and maybe have to take a lengthy circuitous route to get back).

Think of an important phone call that gets dropped. Unless it reverts back to standard phone usage (may or may not) the person on the other end of the call may not even be able to call you back.

Also how distracted is the average driver going to be when the system reboots -- everything from music to A/C to navigation goes offline. The answer is VERY . The average person, at least the first time it happens, is going to be pushing buttons, trying to talk to it, etc. rather than actually driving. That, all by itself, seems to me to be the biggest reason to not buy into this until this issue is resolved. A reboot every 1,000 operating hours might be OK as no system is perfect, but anything much more often is not.

Seriously? An A-?
By marccrazy on 9/4/2011 1:12:01 PM , Rating: 2
Did you actually use it? For $1200 why is it so featureless? I think for the $1200 you pay for MyFord Touch you would be much better off buying two tablets and bolting one to the dashboard. What upsets me the most, isn’t that the functionality is well behind the curve of what a person can do today on a 9 inch touch screen, I’m upset that this is the best thing going for an in-dash touch screen. I hate to say it but I think Apple needs to team up with someone and up the game.

Here is my take after having one for almost 6 months. I will disregard that the voice recognition is laughable and more of a novelty than something actually usable, since you state it has been fixed. The first issue I have is half of limited functionality is disabled while driving--even when there is a passenger in the passenger seat. For example, if my wife wants to check the latest movie show times when I’m driving she cannot. Second, the audio/video functionality is archaic. Besides the fact that is doesn’t recognize any videos on a USB or CD. When you put a music CD or USB stick in it the only options you have is Next/Previous song and Play/Pause. Why can’t you pick from a song list on the CD or fast forward a song. Third, the navigation controls are horrible. Even if the navigation controls were somewhat intuitive, why a cartoon map? It is 2011. Where is the Google earth! Forth, the Sirius radio implementation is inadequate and falls short of any Sirius radio I’ve ever owned. Where is the song and artist name? I know you can pull them up but it shouldn’t be something you have to work at to find.

Ok, so they reduced the functionality to make it “safer”. I think it actually makes it more of a hazard. The overall layout isn’t logical and all the commands are buried. The branching for functionality is unintuitive. For example, on the radio you have to go through 5 branches to change the treble and base and good luck trying to change from HD1 to HD2 on a radio station that has two HD stations. I don’t want to read an instruction guide to figure something out!

Finally, when is someone going to root this? I want to play DVDs on my MyTouch.

RE: Seriously? An A-?
By danjw1 on 9/4/2011 2:31:39 PM , Rating: 2
Have you taken it in to have the firmware updated?

It's not so bad
By karielash on 9/4/2011 10:21:17 AM , Rating: 2

I purchased a Ford Edge and I can only say the updates have made a huge difference with the vehicle, the reboots used to happen a lot, now it's extremely rare (I have not seen one in some time). I have both an Android and Blackberry paired and switching between the two is remarkably easy to do and neither experiences any lag. Add to that the Edge is a great ride and Ford has another very happy customer.

Why this review is all wrong
By redav on 9/8/2011 1:22:46 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think the author read the CR review--or if he did, he didn't understand it. CR explicitly said that the system was logically laid out. However, their complaint was that simple actions that on other systems can be done with a single button press or turn of a knob take multiple screen pressed or a series of voice commands to execute. THAT is how the system is 'complicated,' i.e., complexity - not difficult to understand.

JDP's quality survey records owners' complaints. When your car doesn't do what you were told it does, that's a serious problem. There's nothing "unfair" about the results--real people had issues with MFT and complained about it. The survey results reflect that.

These points illustrate why this review is bogus--just like MFT, it misses the intent of its purpose.

Why does MFT exist? Why does any new invention get released and/or succeed in the market? The most basic answer is that it fills a need, does a job that nothing else does. MFT doesn't do that. MFT does a lot things that other devices already do (A/C, stereo, nav, etc), and in nearly every case, those other devices do them better. The review mentioned that the command "Climate: Temperature up" works. Wow! Or, you could just reach down and turn the temperature knob and do the same thing before you could even finish the word "climate." That's what CR was complaining about--turn a knob & done versus pull a paddle, wait for the car to respond, say a string of commands, & wait for the car to verify (and it didn't even work every time).

How about another 'improvement' highlighted by the reviewer--animations. Who are these animations for? Clearly not the driver because he should be watching the road, not MFT. It is a case of MFT adding complexity and cost to do something that it shouldn't be doing at all.

On the issue of reboots, I have never had a car stereo system reboot. Ever. I've never had a car stereo not do exactly what I told it to do, immediately when I tell it to do it. Given the reboot phenomenon, how is MFT superior? Do you really want to pay more to get something that doesn't do what it is supposed to do? Or is it worth spending nearly a grand because you get to pretend your car is an iPad?

Is the system distracting? Do voice controls eliminate that distraction? Give me a break. As already mentioned, voice commands take far more time and concentration than simply pressing a button or turning a knob. Ever used voice commands when others are in the car--that's an exercise in ridiculousness. Also, I've seen too many examples (and has had it happen to me) where MFT just doesn't get what you're saying, in which case, YES! voice commands are disctractions.

So, does MFT do a lot of cool, nifty things? Yes it does. Does it do what a car system should do? Most of the time. Does it do that as well as existing, lower-tech solutions? No.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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