June 22, 2011

Ford Embraces Smartphone Technology For Upcoming Vehicles

Auto manufacturer Ford is expanding the functionality of in-car smartphone connectivity for the 2012 model year, Reuters is reporting.

The communications and entertainment system will be able to connect with smartphones on Ford vehicles such as the Fusion sedan, F-150 pickup trucks, and the Expedition SUV, the car maker announced.

The smartphone option, called Sync AppLink, is already available on the subcompact Ford Fiesta and the company had previously announced it would be available on the 2012 Ford Mustang. The Sync system, without the Synch AppLink option, is available across the Ford and Lincoln lineup as a $400 option on some models and is standard on others.

President of Ford operations in North America and South America, Mark Fields, pointed out a recent study showing that smartphones will overtake feature phones in the United States, and he claimed that two-thirds of smartphone users want to use them in their vehicles.

"Mobile app growth is literally skyrocketing," said Fields. "This is a trend that we cannot ignore, especially as a Nationwide Insurance study shows that one in four Americans who download apps admits to using them while driving."

Improved ease of on-board control systems and the Sync AppLink will help keep a driver's eyes on the road, said Fields. Ford director of connected services, Douglas VanDagens, points out that the Sync AppLink will eventually be a factory option on all Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

"I laid out the product opportunities that we had with our senior management here at Ford, and asked for an even more aggressive growth curve," VanDagens told Blooomberg News. "After seeing the product plan, everyone was all in."

Expertise is in high demand for connecting new mobile technologies with vehicles in Motor City, as automakers replace car stereos with internet radio and gasoline engines with lithium-ion batteries.

Detroit was the fastest-expanding region for technology job postings last year, according to website Dice Holdings Inc. Ford is also working to fix software glitches as it integrates new technology, such as touch-screen and voice controls, into its cars.

Since the beginning of this year, the number of app developers that have applied to create programs for Ford's vehicles has increased to more than 2,500, said Alan Hall, a Ford spokesman.

"The ability to utilize some of these apps in the car is becoming very desirable by consumers, particularly Internet radio," Phil Magney, vice president of automotive research for IHS ISuppli, told Bloomberg. "Ford is very aggressive -- I would have to give them credit to be first to fully capitalize on the latest trend."

Yesterday, the automaker said it was addressing complaints about its MyFordTouch and Sync technology and improving the software, after its Explorer sport-utility vehicle this month was ranked 17th out of 19 models in its class reviewed by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports called the touch-screen controls "complicated and distracting." J.D. Power & Associates said it had received reports of the screens blanking out. "We're largely back on track on some of these early issues," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said yesterday.

Ford also announced it was working with Nuance Communications of Burlington, Massachusetts to ease the use of voice-control systems in Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

The first project is one that will expand the vocabulary of commands as well as decipher the intent of the driver if he or she does not use commands such as navigation inquiries the Sync system currently recognizes.


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