COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS IN CARS: Ford aims to raise bar with Sync

January 7, 2007



"Hello? ... Can you hear me now?"

Wake up, users of OnStar, MyGIG and their electronic brothers and sisters.

According to Microsoft Corp. and Ford Motor Co. -- which are expected today to launch a new Sync software based on Microsoft Auto for cars -- you're all in danger of being out-of-date.

The system, to be launched in the redesigned 2008 Ford Focus that hits showrooms this fall, represents a new frontier in infotainment and communications systems in vehicles.

Sync will provide one centralized, wireless, voice-operated system for phone calls, digital music, text messaging and other everyday computer functions.

Ford, which has the exclusive right to the technology through the end of 2008, plans to put the system in 12 vehicles, starting with 2008 models. The models are the Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer, and Lincoln MKX and MKZ.

Company officials say it's an option likely to cost less than $1,000 -- about the going price for a new high performance desktop computer.

Ford said consumers will no longer have to worry whether their cell phones, music players and other computer devices are compatible, because Sync will integrate them all seamlessly.

Sync connects with a mobile phone in the car, using Blue-tooth or digital music devices -- either wirelessly, through a USB port or auxiliary input jack -- so that consumers can access and interact with all their information.

Using voice commands or the vehicles' steering wheel or radio controls, consumers will be able to talk on the phone, play music or even have their text messages read to them.

Among the über-cool functions, Sync:

• Will play personal ring tones.

• Is fluent in English, French and Spanish.

• Will read inbound text messages through the sound system, and can even translate common text slang, such as "LOL" and the smiley-face emoticon.

The system is also upgradable, to support the devices and technology of the future.

The new Sync technology might mean the extinction of CD players and the few tape decks still left in cars today.

More important, though, Sync substantially ups the ante in the electronic war going on in cars and trucks worldwide.

Recently, Ford had been criticized for not offering satellite radio in its vehicles, such as Sirius or XM, or even Blue-tooth in its 2007 Ford Edge.

Other competitors have offered a variety of new technologies to assist and please drivers. General Motors Corp. has its safety-oriented OnStar system. DaimlerChrysler AG offers a MyGIG in-dash hard drive storage system. Just last week, Hughes Telematics and DaimlerChrysler also teamed up to develop a new system.

Ford has now at least caught up to these efforts -- if not surpassed them.

And, Sync will finally tell Ford customers: "We can hear you now."
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