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MyFord Touch quietly went on sale this week. The $1,000 system offers a three-screen premium upgrade from Ford's popular SYNC infotainment service.

MyFord Touch is being made available first on the 2011 Edge

In addition to a touch screen on the dash, two LCDs also appear in the instrument cluster.  (Source: Ford Motor Company)
New iteration of the popular infotainment option meets release, but faces growing competition

When it comes to infotainment, there was nothing quite like Ford Motor Company's SYNC systemon mass market vehicles sold in the U.S. over the last few years.  GM's competitive offering OnStar was more limited in functionality and fit a smaller niche, being primarily safety/navigation themed.  And while SYNC largely mirrored and compiled features from past systems from automakers like Jaguar (a former Ford property, now owned by Tata) and other luxury automakers, it offered features like voice-activated calling, music control, turn-by-turn directions, weather, and news updates for the first time in a mass market package.

The result was a wild success for Ford.  Launched in 2007 (with the 2008 model year), SYNC has gone on to sell 2 million vehicles and is today featured in 70 percent of Ford's vehicles sold.  

The $395 USD premium is a win for Ford, as it pays an estimated $28 USD for the key chips in SYNC; and it's a win for the customer, as Ford has shown that the SYNC option increases the one year resale value by $240 USD on average, and $200 on average after two years.  Ford offers free SYNC Traffic, Directions & Information services for three years, and charges a flat rate of $60/year after that.  The system has also been shown to have safety benefits, presumably by presenting info to drivers in a less distracting manner.

Inspired by the success, Ford has charged ahead with a new version of SYNC.  Much like the evolution of cell phones to smartphones, the new MyFord Touch sets the ambitious goal of being a richer, more powerful interface driven by voice and touch.

Our sources at Ford indicate that the final code delivery of the new system occurred last week, at which point the company began flashing the control units of new model cars in storage.  These units began shipping and retailing this week, putting the new system in customer's hands for the first time.

Separately, Ford spokeperson confirmed that the first vehicles with MyFord Touch were sold this week.  Interestingly this launch appears to have been somewhat quiet, in contrast with the deluge of pre-launch PR in past months.  Ford's spokeperson was unable to verify what day the first vehicle with the feature was sold.  They stated that the first model that was with it were the 2011 Ford Edge and the 2011 Lincoln MKX (the Lincoln's version of the system is rebranded the MyLincoln Touch).  Some earlier sources indicated that the 2011 Lincoln MKX would go on sale in October, but this has proved inaccurate.

According to our sources at the company, the release was just barely behind schedule by a week or so.  While not a serious delay, these sources indicate the system has some rough edges.  The key reason for this reportedly was that Ford decided to largely scrap the code base from SYNC and start anew with MyFord Touch.  There's both benefits and downsides to such an approach and Ford and its customers who purchase the option will certainly experience both.

Some reviewers like Autoblog have noted these voice-control issues.  Writes Zach Bowman of Autoblog, "The next evolutionary step in Sync, MyTouch now recognizes over 10,000 different voice commands, allowing you to control nearly everything in the cabin without your hands leaving the steering wheel.  At least, that's the theory. During our short time with the system, we had a few issues getting the onboard brain to comprehend our (apparently) muddled voices."

On paper the system looks vastly superior to SYNC.

The new system adds more hardware -- two driver configurable 4.2" color LCD displays in instrument cluster, an 8" color LCD touch screen in center stack, a second USB 2.0 port, an SD card port, and RCA audio and video input jacks.  

Key software additions include the ability to send canned text messages via a Bluetooth-connected handset, improved reading of incoming text messages, software climate controls, HD radio song tagging, and better voice selection of complex song fields (such as collaborations).  Another key new features is the addition of GPS to the 911 assist, which can potentially aid in rescues and helps Ford Sync offer a superset of OnStar's functionality.

Next year MyFord Touch and its rebrandings (MyLincoln Touch and MyMercury Touch) will get AppLink, which adds the ability for smartphone apps to interface with the vehicle (this is expected to initially be for Android only, Apple reportedly requires a pricey hardware chip to allow apps to interface).

All the basic software highlights of SYNC return.

The deluge of new features does come at a slight premium -- a full MyFord Touch package has a $1,000 USD MSRP (SYNC for $395, a rearview camera for $240, and $365 for the MyFord Touch interface).  The price point -- $365 USD -- actually seems pretty cheap when you consider the 3 LCD screens (including an 8-inch touch screen) it includes.  And of course, customers can still opt for the cheaper SYNC package on other Ford vehicles.

We played with earlier versions of the software in past months and came away with positive impressions.  Voice control seems on par with SYNC, despite the code base revamp.

Ford faces growing challenges.  Other automakers are looking to release infotainment systems, similar to SYNC and MyFord Touch.  These systems, like Ford's, will be built on Microsoft Automotive, Microsoft's operating system for cars.

While we feel these systems will certainly 
eventually pose a threat to Ford, currently they're very rudimentary at best.  Chrysler has announced plans to bring partner Fiat's Infotainment system Blue&Me to the U.S., but the timetable for this deployment has not yet solidified.  Kia/Hyundai's UVO system will hit the market later this year on the 2011 Kia Sportage and 2011 Kia Optima. Although the 2011 Sportage has already hit dealer lots, UVO isn't currently available. Our early testing in January showed the system to be extremely unresponsive to our voice commands, so the delayed availability is likely a good thing.

So even if MyFord Touch launches with a few rough edges and a higher price tag, it's still market-leading technology and alongside the older SYNC system, which it will gradually replace, should help drive Ford's high tech image.

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Impressive ...
By SirKronan on 8/25/2010 3:43:02 AM , Rating: 3
These LCDs in the instrument cluster are looking pretty cool, and informative. And being right by the steering wheel and speedometer, it's going to be much less of a distraction than just limited to a screen in the center. Rough edges are to be expected, but otherwise, this is dang impressive. I don't know how you could like sci fi and not like these cars that have like built in "sci fi" tech in them ... this is far ahead of anything I've seen from any other maker.

RE: Impressive ...
By hughlle on 8/25/2010 6:20:50 AM , Rating: 2
I have no issue with fancy gizmos for passengers and such, but on the whole, the driver should be driving, and paying attention, i personally see no point in such displays in the instrument cluster. But then again this might just be me, i don't write texts, answer my phone, i just keep doing as i'm doing and make sure i don't go and do anything disasterous. (not to mention, $1000 for that little gimmick, no thanks!)

RE: Impressive ...
By Sazabi19 on 8/25/2010 8:33:26 AM , Rating: 4
I don't think that this will be so much of a "hey, let me watch something on here while I'm driving" as much as its pretty much a nicer, newer way of looking at the old analog instrument cluster. This will probably display more at once, in a smaller area, then analog clusters. it will probably have options for setting up fuel range, engine temp, trip (a,b?), tire pressure and so on that usually gets just a very tiny window that you have to cycle through. not sure how i feel about not having an RPM gauge but that's just me, i try to get MPG out of my car the best i can, so keeping my engine around 2.5k RPM is what i do when i can. Just my thoughts though :)

RE: Impressive ...
By Sazabi19 on 8/25/2010 8:37:02 AM , Rating: 2
i just zoomed in on the pics of it and it seems that what i said is pretty much right. Looks very informative, i like it, though honestly i think it will b easier to use the center console for AC and radio, rather than reaching behind the wheel while driving to touch some of that stuff. With that being said, i hope you can get rid of the Spanish text junk on the info panel, does that annoy the hell out of anyone else?

RE: Impressive ...
By Ristogod on 8/25/10, Rating: 0
RE: Impressive ...
By GoodStuff111 on 8/25/2010 12:45:08 PM , Rating: 4
Sazabi19, let me set you at ease. The screens by the speedometer are controlled not by touch, but by two cell phone like 4-way arrow buttons with an ok button in the middle. They are located on your steering wheel right where your thumbs can hit them without your hands leaving the wheel.

RE: Impressive ...
By VahnTitrio on 8/25/2010 10:02:24 AM , Rating: 2
If you click the pictures on one of them you can see a digital tachometer just to the left of the speedometer, so you actually aren't even losing that.

RE: Impressive ...
By MrBlastman on 8/25/2010 10:14:37 AM , Rating: 2
It just looks like fancy bling to me. My philosophy of driving:

Eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel, tires smoking around corners. You can't do that if you're too busy futzing with lcd screens at dash level.

If and when this technology becomes imbedded into the windshield via a HUD, then it really might be useful and feasible.

RE: Impressive ...
By marvdmartian on 8/25/2010 8:49:51 AM , Rating: 1
Ford better hurry up and figure out driverless driving (computer controlled driving, in other words).

With all the gizmos and gadgets they're adding onto their cars, the distraction hazard is going up.....spoken commands or not, drivers WILL be distracted!

RE: Impressive ...
By Targon on 8/25/2010 9:39:08 AM , Rating: 2
Back in the late 1980s and going forward, some luxury cars had an on-board computer where you would hit a button to get extra information about things like the estimated miles until empty, instant vs. average gas mileage, and so on. If you look at the Prius, you get a very distracting display that shows where the power comes from(battery vs. gas engine), and so on.

So, what makes this different is that it is a touch screen for controls to get the information you may want as well as a control system. We are not talking about movies on the LCD display, we are talking about getting the information you would get from any other system, and give you voice controls on top of it.

Hands free units allow people to answer calls without having to play with their cell phones to answer a call, and that should also be seen as a positive thing. The system reading text messages to you rather than you looking at your phone is also a positive in many ways, and if the voice dictation for sending or responding to a text message is decent, it would mean you can respond without the need to type a response, which is the most dangerous thing out there right now(besides the idiots who read the newspaper while driving).

If you read the article, that $1000 is for the THREE systems. The basic Sync system is $400, but if you want the touch screens, it makes sense that there will be an extra cost there. A rear-display camera also adds to the price, but is not required.

So, the system is really between $400 and $1000 based on which features you want and which ones you don't want.

What wasn't said is that the 2012 Ford Focus, which is slated to have the MyFord system as an option is due out in early 2011, and with EcoBoost and the dual clutch automatic transmission, looks to be a very attractive car for the $17000-$21000 price range that people are expecting. The Lincoln MKX and MKZ are a bit on the expensive side for many, but the Focus should be getting all of these new features at a more affordable price.

RE: Impressive ...
By Reclaimer77 on 8/25/2010 4:29:04 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah exactly. Looking down to text on your phone is a distraction and should be illegal, but looking over to play with a big complex touch LCD is impressive and revolutionary??

RE: Impressive ...
By Chaser on 8/26/2010 8:00:29 AM , Rating: 2
Do you ever read your instruments? How about the fuel gauge or the speedometer? Ever turn the "radio" on?

These "little gimmicks" allow you to control devices like the radio and the AC with voice commands so that you dont have to take your eyes off the road in order to prevent something "disasterous".

But this is a tech site. "Little gimmicks" certainly aren't the context here that you commented on.

Welcome to the year 2000.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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