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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