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Ford Sync and the iPhone

Just recently, I bought a new car, and it was sorely needed. I purchased a very lightly used 2010 Ford Focus, and compared to what I was coming from, this car is like driving a super computer. In my modest experience so far, it has the user experience of a super computer, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

First off, the Sync functionality, which is provided by Microsoft, allows you to pair your phone. I would wager most smartphones are compatible with the system that allows you to make phone calls and such, with voice commands. This is all well and good, if you can figure out how to pair your phone in the first place.

I like to think I’m a pretty tech-savvy person. That said, a button, on the steering wheel, in plain sight, is what you need to press after turning on Bluetooth on your device. I totally missed the button, perhaps it would be more apparent to someone else, but I missed it.

From there, the two devices will find each other, and you will be presented with a passcode, a series of numbers, on the display located in the dashboard. Punch those numbers into the field that displays on your iPhone, and you are now paired and ready to make calls and stream music from your phone.

In my experience, there aren’t many voice commands when connected via Bluetooth. You can tell Sync to call someone, and use it for basic music controls such as play and pause. If you want to really control music, such as playing a specific song or artist, you need to connect your device via the built-in USB port. For this to work, your song file must have the meta data in place so that the system can index the content.

Once all of this is in place, a simple push of the button on the steering wheel, will open the system up for voice commands. Overwhelmingly, Sync understands my commands, despite my semi-thick southern accent. That said, these commands are not like Siri. You cannot speak casually to Sync. There are a handful of scripted commands, which Sync can remind you of, that control the different features. This can be frustrating until one memorizes them.

For instance, I would tell Sync to ”play song ___ ” and it would go off and do its own thing. Then I remembered, the correct vernacular is ”track” not ”song”. Whatever, I’m over it.

Making phone calls, is usually a breeze. Tell Sync to ”call ____” and it will. If there is more than one entry for that person in your address book, then it will ask you which you’d like to dial. For instance when calling my brother it will ask me if I want to call his home or cell. Much the same way Siri will ask you when you give her a similar command to call someone.

I did notice a difference in the feel surrounding Sync when compared to Siri. At the time Sync was introduced, it was leaps and bounds ahead of anything we had seen before in a car. It still holds up pretty well. But now that we have something like Siri, and other competing voice command products to compare it to, it’s starting to feel a little dated, simply due to the rigid, scripted commands it can accept. Siri, although it is not perfect, certainly feels more conversational and friendly than Sync, despite them both having that same stock, robotic-y female voice. One has a sense of humor and personality, the other does not.

At this point you are probably wondering what part of Sync I actually like. Yes, I’m really raking it across the coals, but that’s because I know it could be perfect, instead of just really good. It works better than a demo, but not up to my liking. Besides, it has Microsoft-esque features such as activation for the directions features, and the on-display options are difficult to use. That is, trying to toggle through options presented to you on the dashboard display and are controlled by toggling through via the buttons on the steering wheel. It’s confusing at best, for a nerd like me, so I’d hate to see what an average user, such as my non-techy mother, would do with it.

Now that we’re this far into it, I’d like to note that I have the lowest rung version of Sync. It comes in several flavors, mine pulling up the cheap end, with options going as far as to offer color touch screens. With my perfunctory understanding, those higher-calibre versions can read your incoming text messages and offer dictation for responses. Perhaps my version of Sync offers this as well- I sure as hell can’t figure it out.

I suppose that is the moral of this story- Sync, Powered by Microsoft, is a great feature, totally worth taking into consideration on your next car purchase. That said, you will likely need to sit down and read up on how to operate it. There is still plenty to learn. To me, this is a squandered opportunity to define a user interface, and make it canon for years to come. Instead, you’re left trying to operate a pretty sophisticated feature through toggle buttons on your steering wheel and dash. They could have done so much better.

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  • DITTO….

  • DJ Pearce

    Most Ford dealers have a “Sync Owners Clinic” once a month that offer free training / support.

  • Alan

    Alex: First, thanks for your purchase of a Ford!

    Second, thanks for your evaluation of SYNC. You’ve definitely spent time getting to know with the system, so thanks for the honest feedback. I can provide you some perspective on a few of your comments.
    1) Voice Recognition – This feature is really the heart of SYNC and the reason why we introduced the system. In our research, voice recognition is the best interface to allow command and control over devices brought into the car (phones/MP3 players) yet help keep drivers’ eyes on the road, and hands on the wheel. Since we first introduced SYNC in 2007, there have been significant improvements to the technology, and Siri has really become the benchmark. We’ve made significant improvements to SYNC’s voice recognition in our latest products featuring SYNC with MyFord Touch. For instance, you can now say “Play track” or “Play song”. You can also just say “Call Alex” without saying “Phone” first. We’ve also added voice control over navigation, radio, satellite radio, and climate control. Note that there is a major difference between SYNC and Siri though, and it all has to do with processing power. SYNC features “embedded” voice recognition meaning that the software, and thus capability, is built into the car and always available for the driver to use. Siri is “cloud-based” or connected voice navigation, as it is taking your voice commands and sending them into the cloud for processing. The processing power is much stronger in the cloud, and therefore it allows more natural language interaction, but it requires a constant 3G/4G or Wifi connection to work. Have you ever pressed the Siri button and she responds that she’s not available at the moment? We will continue to improve voice recognition of SYNC, including looking at enhancement via the “cloud”, but it is important to make sure that the basic voice controls are always available to the driver, so the experience is a convenience, not a distracton.

    2) The interface – The first generation of SYNC, such as the 2010 Focus that you’re driving, was a “peripheral” to the existing audio system allowing connectivity for cell phones (via Bluetooth) and MP3 players (via USB). Therefore, the driver interface or dashboard was not optimally designed to present the features/controls that SYNC provided. SYNC was introduced into our products as a “Go Fast” program meaning that we saw the opportunity to be the first to market and provide a feature that consumers wanted, and we were able to engineer it to work with the existing dashboard interface. While it may not have been the optimal interface, consumers have responded very favorably to the features that it has added to the car, and the competition is still trying to catch up to us. Our second generation of SYNC, MyFord Touch introduced in 2010, was designed as a holistic interface that really brought SYNC to life, using a mix of voice recognition, touchscreen, and steering wheel mounted controls.

    3) Text messaging – Yes, your version of SYNC can read incoming text messages out loud, but the feature is dependent on the capabilities of your phone. This was a very advanced feature when it first launched in 2007, and phone manufacturers are slowly adopting the appropriate Bluetooth profile that allows the transfer of messages for text-to-speech.

    Now that you’ve got a taste of what SYNC can do, I hope you get a chance to try out MyFord Touch to experience our latest enhancements. Also, please visit http://www.ford.com/sync to check phone compatibility charts (for text messaging) as well as other future features like AppLink, that allows for voice control over smartphone apps.

    Please let me know if I can answer any other questions about Ford or SYNC.

    Thanks.

    Alan Hall
    Ford Communications
    @ahall32

  • I’ve been a fan of Ford since my first 1960 convertible. I bought my 2010 Fusion Hybrid new with the “works” including Sync and the full-blown XM Sirius Travel Package and all its goodies. As an amateur techie, my biggest frustration has been the inability to “customize” things like font color (I have mild color blindness), the maps without a $300 update or the voices. Or to use “Destinations” on my iPhone. My $200 five year old Garmin that I use with rental cars is much more current and flexible. Is there any site which gives technical, non-propietary details on ways to customize or update features of Sync without buying a new car??? I love the thing but as a dedicated Mac guy since 1984, I’m frustrated by the inelegance of the system which could be easily rectified with a few tweaks. Please take this as constructive criticism.

    • Interesting that you feel the need to customize so much… I’ve been using Macs since 1984 as well, and I find that outside of my wallpaper, there’s not that much I need to tweek… but as for technology why not visit my blog fordtechlane.com I write about Ford technology from an objective viewpoint and try to create articles that help answer the questions people might have about Ford technologies.

  • Ted Anderton

    hey guys- i bought a 2010 F-150 off the showroom floor and absolutely love it.
    Recently, my android phone quit on me and I replaced it with an iphone 4-S.
    I’ve never had issues with the android in my truck, but I am having issues with the Iphone 4-S…
    It uploaded just fine, but when a call comes in or I make a call, the truck automatically puts the call on “privacy” and wont let me click out of it.
    Also, when I’m driving and someone calls- the Sync in the truck doesnt ring anymore- just the phone itself. It still turns off the radio but I am unable to hear anyone through my truck speakers..

    any ideas??
    Thanks in advance

    Ted
    T_anderton2001@yahoo.com

    • Steve

      Ted Microsoft blows and the sync technology is even worse. I have the same issues with my new 2013 escape. I’m sad to say it just started working properly for a day or two. Now I can’t stream pandora ! Incredibly volatile system. Im very frustrated to say the least.

  • Steve

    My opinion with my new 2013 escape is that Microsoft sucks. Really bad. The system is volatile and is plain pathetic for a giant like Microsoft. I wouldn’t recommend a purchase or use of this system to anybody. GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD MOST USERS HAVE APPLE PRODCTS !

  • Carla

    My sync system is also very frustrating. Calls just drop, no one can hear me, the sync computer rarely understands a command or address and I’ve given up trying to have the system call anyone for me. The dealer just says I need to get used to it! They are clueless and couldn’t care less about the problems. I live about 15 miles from Ford’s world headquarters and may just make a visit. My first Ford and if this doesn’t get fixed, I’m going back to GM.

  • Matty

    Just got a pre-owned certified 2010 Edge. Beautiful product all around. SYNC (why are they yelling?) is a first gen product from Microsoft. Like Windows 3.0 we shouldn’t expect the experience we get from Apple.

    I am a software developer by trade. So, I have an eye for user-interface and a greater tolerance for software that doesn’t have a good interface.

    I find it very frustrating navigating through all the menu option. It’s worse than an HP/Dell Laser printer.

    There is no cancel button! It’s hidden away as a double-tap or some god awful gesture that doesn’t have an pictogram. Please, maybe this is why MS can’t design a widely adopted phone?

    You can’t find Bluetooth Audio in the menus. Only through Voice Recognition. Very confusing.

    When you hit play on the iPhone and choose SYNC as the audio destination, nothing happens. Even if Bluetooth Audio is active.

    I’m just finding my way to Phonebooks and the rest of the setup I expect from the system.

    Being an iPhone/Apple guy, I expect a certain usability out of the box. With SYNC you must read the manual. Every line. Every paragraph. Every section.

    I realize that this project was fast-tracked for Ford. Trying to add a feature to the car that was on the checklist of some executive in a glass tower in downtown Detroit. But man, this was a pretty cheesy way to get it in last years models.

    Ford, you made the rest of the car with excellence and craftsmanship and then muddied the experience with a screwy system that is everybody’s face.

    Get iteration 2 right, and then let me download SYNC 2.0.

    iPhone 4/iOS 6/2010 Edge

  • Dude

    I’m gay