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Using Microsoft's Auto software, Ford Sync looks to integrate mobile devices with cars more tightly than ever

At Microsoft’s Sunday evening CES Keynote, Bill Gates mentioned that one area his company is looking to expand into is providing information services inside the car. With commuters spending hours in the car every day, Gates wishes to give drivers and passengers access to many of the features they experience at home. Mark Fields, Americas president of Ford Motor Company then took over to describe a new factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system that is designed to change the way consumers use digital media portable music players and mobile phones in their vehicles.

The Ford technology based on Microsoft Auto software first leaked last year, dubbed Sync, provides consumers the convenience and flexibility to bring into their vehicle nearly any mobile phone or digital media player and operate it using voice commands or the vehicle’s steering wheel or radio controls. In theory, Ford owners will not need to worry about whether their car or truck is compatible with new phones or music players that hit the market – Sync is upgradeable to support future devices and services.

Sync offers consumers two ways to bring electronic devices into their Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles and operate them seamlessly through voice commands or steering wheel controls: Bluetooth, for wireless connection of phones and phones that play music, or a USB 2.0 port for command and control and charging of digital media players – including the Apple iPod and Microsoft Zune – as well as PlaysForSure music devices and most USB media storage devices. Supported formats include MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV and PCM.

In addition to the voice-activated, hands-free calling, another feature offered by Sync that allows the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road is audible text messages. Sync will convert text messages from your phone to audio and read it out loud. The system is even smart enough to translate such commonly used text messaging expressions as “LOL” and other emoticons. The recipient can choose to reply from any of 20 predefined responses.

Sync includes the same features offered on mobile phones, including caller ID, call waiting, conference calling, a caller log, a list of contacts, a signal strength icon and a phone battery charge icon – all located on the radio’s display screen. The system will also automatically and wirelessly transfer all the names and numbers in a mobile phonebook.

Sync will debut this calendar year on the 2008 Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer, Sport Trac, Mercury Milan, Montego, Mountaineer and Lincoln MKX and MKZ. The technology will be on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the near future.

“Ford and Microsoft share a vision for a future where drivers are safely connected to the people, information and entertainment they care about while they are on the road,” said Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation. “Built on Microsoft Auto technology, Ford Sync delivers an in-car system that is an important step toward achieving this vision. Using software that bridges the automotive and consumer electronics industries, Sync will help revolutionize the driving experience by providing a simple system that intelligently connects mobile phones, music players, and more.”

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MS and Ford?!?!?
By judasmachine on 1/8/2007 11:00:43 AM , Rating: 0
OK now I'm scared.

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By lufoxe on 1/8/2007 11:50:57 AM , Rating: 2
First thing that came to mind, I swear,
For all those firefly fans... define interesting
Ok, in all seriousness... IF implemented properly this should be a great idea... keyword, if implemented properly, which means done right the first time. I'd hate to take my brand new (insert ford vehicle here) to the dealership to get a patch installed.

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By audiophi1e on 1/8/2007 12:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
when i read the word "upgradeable", it makes me think "patcheable". This sounds too new and novel not to be implemented properly the first version out.

also i'm having big doubts about it's compatibility with most products out there...when i read "many phones, mp3 players" i think they mean "phones and devices running microsoft"

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By TomZ on 1/8/2007 1:16:09 PM , Rating: 2
Software like this would have to be updated in the field, period. This is because its requirements will continue to change after it is installed and after you buy the vehicle.

For example, suppose Apple were to come out with a next-gen iPod that requires software support in Sync after you buy your Ford Sync car. Clearly today's programming cannot anticipate what changes would be needed, and so a field update would be needed to add support for this device. That's pretty much what the article said.

Finally, I don't see why Sync couldn't be used with non-Microsoft products. This is not an issue with desktop Windows today. I know little about Sync, but I'd wager to bet that it is a "platform," meaning that both Microsoft as well as third parties will be able to program against its services. I don't see anything in the press reports that talks about locking out access for non-Microsoft developers or devices.

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By jabhawk on 1/8/2007 1:14:11 PM , Rating: 2
Rant warning.....

Ok, Now we are adding more distracting features for the driver to handle. The government mandated hands-free phones and I still see people driving erratically while playing with their bluetooth. It just gave them another hand to use for grabbing that coffee or touching up the makeup.

If we are going to add MP3 sync'ing and SMS messaging we will have even more people not paying attention. Especially the new drivers and the SMS messaging. The 16-22 demo send more text messages per day than they do full verbal sentences. I see them daily with their cell phones trying to thumb type while switching lanes.

Some compare this to the XM radio but there is a big difference. With any of the radio services you are just changing the channel, the song order is locked. With MP3 players you have multiple categories, playlists, searches and scrolls to find just the right song to "rock the ride".

Lets add more performance and safety features before another 'cool' toy. I would pay more for a car that got 60mpg over one that let me connect a PDA. Protect me from the other driver who is head banging to Green Day while texting his buddy that "this song is bitching" and I will buy that car.

Stepping off the soap box and moving on.....

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By TomZ on 1/8/2007 1:21:18 PM , Rating: 2
You can be sure that safety requirements are being considered in this systems. Both Ford and Microsoft know full well that if they make any mistakes in their designs, people might get hurt, property damaged, and large lawsuits brought. Remember, these are smart, experienced people designing these systems.

This is really no different than today's in-car entertainment systems. For example, in my van we have a DVD player, and it is clearly designed to not be controllable nor viewable by the driver, in order to avoid the types of distractions you point out. I'm sure that Sync is being designed with similar restrictions in mind.

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By ChugokuOtaku on 1/9/2007 7:17:51 AM , Rating: 2
I'm pissed!
of all auto makers, why Ford!? cuz they need help the most?... lol

atleast pick a Euro auto maker...which I'd consider buying in the future had I the funds. Wouldn't touch a Ford or a GM with a ten foot pole.

RE: MS and Ford?!?!?
By TomZ on 1/9/2007 9:06:10 AM , Rating: 2
Microsoft's deal with Ford is not exclusive - I'm sure you can expect other automakers to join in later if the program is successful. Ford just happens to be an early adopter in this case.

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton
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