Ford Sync AppLink (hands on)
Last week, Ford vehicles gained the ability to voice control apps on a paired smartphone through AppLink, part of a 4.0 update to its SYNC mobile connectivity package. This week, we found ourselves once again behind the wheel of the 2011 Ford Fiesta, the first Ford vehicle to gain the AppLink software, so we decided to stretch its new digital legs with the Pandora Internet radio app, the first application to tout AppLink compatibility.
Before we could start barking voice command orders to our paired phone, we had to first update the vehicle's firmware through Ford's Sync My Ride Web site with the help of a USB storage device. The update process--illustrated in the video above--was quick, mostly painless, and only involved rebooting the vehicle once.
With the new software in place, we Bluetooth paired the Fiesta and our Motorola Droid, started the Pandora app, and hit the road. The AppLink-enabled vehicle and application worked well together. We were able to tune to our custom Pandora stations by simply saying, for example, "Play station, Gorillaz Radio." Other voice activated functions included skipping a track, assigning a thumbs up or down to the currently playing song, getting artist or song information, and creating a new station based on the currently playing song or artist. There's not much that one could manually do with the Pandora app that can't now be safely controlled through Sync via voice command.
In addition to voice commands, the AppLink function also gave us steering wheel controls for quickly skipping a song or assigning a thumbs up or down. The Fiesta's small, monochromatic LCD also displayed the title and artist of the currently playing song, eliminating many of the "who's that?" moments associated with listening to potentially new music.
By now, you've no doubt checked out the video above to see the Sync AppLink function in action. If not, then go ahead and hit Play. Pandora Internet Radio is one of two apps--the other being OpenBeak--that support the Sync AppLink service on iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android handsets. In the coming year we can expect this functionality to spread to other Ford Sync enabled vehicles, along with a wider variety of applications.