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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