Now that other infotainment contenders are stepping up to the plate, Ford plans to up its game and double down on its voice-activated Sync platform.
Ford announced it will quadruple the connectivity team responsible for developing its in-car connectivity services. The expanded team will help implement Sync throughout its global lineup of vehicles, which is installed on approximately 70 percent of all Ford vehicles sold in the U.S., according to the manufacturer.
The expansion is necessary to maintain Ford's position as a leader in infotainment systems now that Toyota and GM are finally offering competitive solutions with the roll out of Entune and MyLink. Toyota's and GM's platforms allow occupants to integrate popular mobile entertainment apps, such as Pandora and OpenTable, with the vehicle's multimedia interface using their mobile phones. Ford offers similar connectivity called AppLink, and announced that it will add this feature to 10 more vehicles, including the 2012 Ford Fusion, Fusion Hybrid, F-150, F-150 SVT Raptor, Super Duty, Expedition, E-Series and Shelby. Currently, AppLink is available only on the 2011 Ford Fiesta and 2012 Ford Mustang.
AppLink includes integration with Pandora, Stitcher, and OpenBeak. Like Saab, Ford is hoping developers will make custom apps for their platform, and the company will increase efforts to grow its application developer community. AppLink developers are able to modify existing apps or create new apps that customize entertainment, news, navigation, traffic, and trip planning. More than 2,500 requests for the Ford Software Development Kit (SDK) were made since it was released last year.
Ford is also working to improve the system's usability. A new collaboration with Nuance Communications will help future versions of Sync understand the speaker's intent and recognize natural language commands. For example, if a user says, "I wanna call John Smith," the request could be accurately interpreted for the official Sync command, "Call John Smith." Sync already recognizes 10,000 commands, up from 100 when it launched in 2007, but you still need to know the exact command phrase to get the system to respond. Natural language voice commands could help reduce the learning curve, improve the user experience, and increase adoption of the technology.
The auto manufacturer is also tweaking the fonts on the infotainment system and controls to enhance usability, responding to criticism of its first-generation system. Ford says it will use slightly thicker fonts with an approximately 40 percent wider stroke width on many interior controls, starting with the Ford Edge and Ford Explorer next year.