Author(s): Peter Bryer
Ford has unveiled Sync 3, a major update to its in-car connectivity infotainment system that will be available for cars from 2015 onwards. Ford says the new system is essentially designed by users — the company polled tens of thousands of potential consumers about their needs and expectations. Ford says that the system is more robust — eliminating the lags associated with previous versions of Sync — and that it has a new, smartphone-influenced user interface. The system is also now capable of Wi-Fi over-the-air updates, though previous versions of Sync don't support this.
Sync 3 is based on the QNX operating system — a big win for BlackBerry. Microsoft had been Ford's key software partner since the introduction of Sync in 2007.
Ford's Sync 3 platform uses the AppLink application programming interface to connect smartphones to the car. Sync 3 allows developers to optimise apps for the in-car experience with larger buttons and fewer distractions for the driver. Ford partnered with the makers of popular apps like Pandora and Spotify for Sync 3, treating these as equals for the car's built-in audio functions. This cooperation is enabling features such as displaying album art on the dash. All smartphone apps broadcast onto the vehicles' display via the Sync 3 system are validated by Ford, likely to be to maintain a consistency as well as ensure quality.
The usability of previous versions of Ford's Sync platform has been criticised as being glitchy and somewhat cumbersome for drivers. However, Sync 3 tries to better replicate a familiar yet simplified smartphone user interface in the car. This relies on the occupants' knowledge of handheld devices, providing features such as pinch-and-zoom controls, a navigation search box that mimics the typical Internet search engine, and improved voice input. Smartphone users should face a smaller learning curve when sitting behind the wheel.
The recognition of the ubiquity of smartphone users has allowed Ford's development team to rely more upon the knowledge and real-life expectations of drivers. Smartphone user-interface features are beginning to trickle down into other domains, an acknowledgement of the influence of mobile platforms on user behaviours. Rather than re-invent the wheel with a completely fresh interface, automakers are right to take a backseat and soak in the best aspects of smartphones.