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.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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