(Source: HubPages)
Update will take 60 minutes to install; over 1,000 MyFord Touch screens overhauled

Is Ford Motor Comp. (F) an automaker?  Or is it a technology company?  If you ask Ford executives like Derrick Kuzak, Global VP for product development, it's a little of both.  

I. After Rocky Launch, Ford Works Hard to Make Good on MFT Promise

"SYNC turned out to be a game-changer in the marketplace," Mr. Kuzak stated at a Monday morning announcement at the company's Research & Innovation Center, referring to Ford's mass-market infotainment and connectivity solution, which first launched in 2007.

But SYNC's successor, MyFord Touch, has been a game changer as well for Ford -- and not all in good ways.  The option, initially priced at $395 USD had a lot of rough edges at launch and caused Ford to post the steepest decline of any automaker in JD Power and Associates (a division of The McGraw-Hill Comp. (MHP)) and Consumer Reports quality rankings.

Our tests agreed with some -- but not all -- of the criticism.  While we felt it was unfair to knock an automaker's overall quality rating for a premium add-on, and felt that some of the distraction criticism was unfounded, we found the new system to struggle with certain voice commands.

"A significant group of customers reported that features in MyFord Touch were not working," Mr. Kuzak acknowledged.

But he added, "What has really kept [Ford] in the lead is our dedication to continuous improvement of the product."

Indeed, while it's easy to criticize the initial launch of MyFord Touch, Ford was quick to notice the complaints and push out an upgrade that greatly improved voice recognition and responsiveness.  However, during our test in September 2011 we still encountered the persistent rebooting issues that had plagued the new software.  The issues were reportedly linked, according to sources, to the Bluetooth pairing (e.g. unexpected information received from the connecting smartphone causing the system to crash).

II. A Massive Effort -- Free to Customers

Now Ford has finally come back with a much larger second overhaul, which reinvents MyFord Touch and -- if all goes according to plan -- will help restore Ford's reputation as the unquestioned leader in infotainment.

The update is available for the 2011 Ford Explorer and Edge and in the 2012 Ford Explorer, Edge, and Focus.  It is completely free, as per Ford's MFT upgrade policy.  The update will be installed on Ford's new MFT-equipped 2013 models, including the Escape, Taurus, and Edge.  The Lincoln luxury brand will also receive an identical update, starting this week.

2012 Ford Explorer
The new update is free for MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles, such as the 2011 and 2012 Ford Explorer [Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech]

2 GB USB sticks (manufacturer: SanDisk) will begin shipping later this week with the update.  It takes approximately 60 minutes to install.  Ford recommends drivers with shorter commutes start their vehicle running a half hour in advance or more, and then go to their vehicle to complete the rest of the update during their drive.

During the first part of the install, customers will be able to use their touchscreen, however during the last 20 minutes or so, it will lock them out.  However, it will maintain whatever their last climate and radio settings were, so customers won't be left in the cold.

The process was originally slated to take a scant 45 min., but the install time was bumped significantly.  Ford global director of electrical and electronic systems engineering, Graydon Reitz explains, "There's more content we're adding than was originally anticipated."

Alternatively, the update process can be completed at the dealership.

Global customers in Canada and other regions will receive the update, but Ford did not detail its specific plans for distribution at today's event or have immediate access to that information.

III. What's Inside

The new update provides over 1,000 refined screens.  Components have been shuffled for easier access and less distraction.  Button size and font size have been increased to reduce glance time.  And fonts have also been made bold to make it even easier to quickly get information.

MyFord Touch upgrade

Vital features, such as temperature and seat heating have been moved to the front page for faster access.

Ford acknowledges that previously there was a "long delay" between pressing the voice command button and response.  By overhauling the user interface, Ford was able to free up a great deal of processor resources to offer faster response times and better overall voice recognition.

The automaker says that overall response speed on the touchscreen interface has improved 2-fold.

Additionally, Mr. Reitz comments "we've eliminated the error states", alluding to bugs such as the Bluetooth bug that could cause the system to crash.  In the case of error the system now responds in a less catastrophic manner.

Ford also announced a few new features:
  • Tablets -- including Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPad -- are now supported by the system, allowing you to pull MP3s off them for listening just like a smartphone.

    iPad 2 v. iPad original
    MyFord Touch now supports tablets [Image Source: Telecom Australia]

  • Sirius XM Radio Inc. (SIRI) has worked with Ford to deliver a new "Game Finder" voice command.  Customers can now say commands like "tune to the Detroit Lions", and it will take them to the game broadcast.
  • audio books are now supported.
  • Navteq (a Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) subsidiary), Ford's navigation map-data partner, has delivered new maps, for customers with the extra ($795 USD) navigation option.  These customers will receive an upgrade SD card, carrying the new data.
IV. Ford Learns from Mistakes, Growing Pains

The new release has also seen a change in the development approach.  After relying on independent software company B-Squared for part of the original MyFord Touch application -- reportedly a major source of the poor results -- Ford having distanced itself somewhat from B-Squared and moving the development back to in-house.  Ford says Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has been a crucial partner for assisting with Bluetooth syncing and other functionality.  

While Ford stated that some B^2 developers are still assisting with the effort, the vendor's diminished involvement is almost surely attributable to the mixed results in terms of compatibility and product quality that our sources at Ford have shared with us.  Ford is all about picking winners -- both externally and internally -- and the quiet message here appears to be that B^2 was not a winner.

Mr. Reitz says that Ford is following an approach of consumer feedback similar to Microsoft's highly successful betas.  While most of the actual testing of the new overhaul was performend by "hundreds-of-thousands" of on-the-road miles by Ford employees and dealer partners, much of the feature improvements came from a series of 4 clinics that Ford held, seeking feedback from Focus and Explorer owners.  

Ford says it also listened to criticism in the media, emails it had received, and feedback its dealers had received from customers.

The company would surely have preferred for everything to go perfect from the start, but the problems have allowed Ford to earn the distinction of becoming the world's first automaker to perform a large-scale on-road software beta test.

Mr. Reitz enthuses, "We think this initiative marks another milestone in becoming a technology company."

Overall this is a big release for Ford and should prove vital for the company in terms of restoring it to the path of acclaim, with regards to infotainment.  We look forward to testing the product in the wild and bringing you our thoughts and analysis.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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