One in a series of articles about media infotainment systems in today’s new vehicles.
The 2015 North American Truck of the Year is the Ford F-150.
Ford’s 2015 Expedition SUV, equipped with Sync with MyFordTouch. Pickup truck owners need power, and not just to haul loads. Today’s owners want power to organize their music, radio listening choices and connections to the world outside the cab.
That’s what Ford’s Sync system does for the 2015 Ford F-150, which was chosen by a panel of American auto journalists as 2015 North American Truck/Utility of the Year. That choice was announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.
I recently tested the Ford Expedition SUV and Ford Transit Connect Wagon and used the Sync system with MyFordTouch.
Since Sync’s rollout in 2007, some 10 million Ford and Lincoln Motor Company vehicles have been delivered with it. In January 2010, the second-generation Sync with MyFordTouch debuted with touchscreen control, enhanced voice recognition and available navigation. It also included HD Radio capability and additional USB and SD card ports.
Of those 10+ million vehicles on the road, 3 million are equipped with receivers that can receive AM/HD and FM/HD signals.
The Sync with MyFordTouch has touchscreen control, analog dials for volume and tuning, as well as voice control. Others in vehicles like the Transit Connect Wagon have smaller screens and rely more on touchscreens and voice for choices. All of the Sync platforms are device-agnostic and let drivers use voice commands to control their connected phones.
The newest version, Sync 3, will debut in Ford and Lincoln cars and trucks beginning in 2016. It’ll have enhanced voice recognition, Enhanced AppLink Siri Eyes-Free capability for iPhones and software updates via USB or over the air through a Wi-Fi connection. It will use smartphone-like gestures (pinch and zoom, for instance) to control apps as part of the touchscreen interface. Ford will still include physical controls, such as knobs, for changing features like channels and volume.
This is the homescreen for Sync with MyFordTouch as installed in a Ford Transit Connect Wagon.
I used a mix of manual and touchscreen and voice control for selection of stations and features when driving the Expedition and Transit Connect.
Occupants will notice the difference when a HD Radio signal is locked on by the receiver — and when the digital signal is lost. When driving down the Palisades Interstate Parkway and locked on an AM HD signal, I hear it in full fidelity closer to the transmitter, but when I drive farther out, it reverts back to analog performance. I grew up DXing AM at night and listen to shortwave, so some diminished fidelity does not bother me. But for others, it appears to be an inconvenience, and I’ve heard anecdotally that drivers who experience this sometimes complain to dealers that their radios do not work.
What users hear is also interconnected with installed safety systems on the vehicles, and audio dims when an alert situation is detected by backup cameras, as well as available cross traffic and blind spot alerting systems.
This is how an AM station display appears in Sync with MyFordTouch.
An FM HD Radio screen from the Sync with MyFordTouch is shown installed in a Ford Expedition. AM and FM users using Sync with MyFordTouch will see a general radio button on the main menu, which they must access to unlock the choices for radio (AM, FM and SiriusXM, if that is installed). To get an FM or AM HD Radio station and hear it in digital, yet another menu choice must be made. Tuning in a station is another menu choice.
With all of those choices, people with short attention spans get frustrated because they are not accessing what they want to hear when they want it. Thus the streaming apps on their phone and those installed in systems such as Stitcher, Pandora, etc., are attractive to them; once selected, they immediately start playing through the speakers.
(As for the radio industry app NextRadio, the Sync systems in the Expedition and Transit Connect vehicles I tested did not have that on the menu.)
As with any control system in a modern vehicle, quality time spent with the owner’s manual is necessary to optimize the Sync system for driver safety and convenience.
From what I heard at November’s Connected Car Expo in Los Angeles during conversations with manufacturers and panelists there — Ford included — radio will continue to have a place in Sync and other platforms for the connected car and truck, although it must compete with other apps.
In my view, whether radio wins that competition will depend not just on the technical quality of the signal delivered to the receiver, but also on the content (metadata included) that rides on that signal — and if that content is so overwhelmingly compelling that users will take the time to program their connected car systems to receive it or facilitate its reception.
Paul Kaminski wrote here about Chrysler’s UConnect system in November; see radioworld.com, keyword UConnect. He is host of msrpk.com’s “Radio-Road-Test” program, now in its 23rd year of production, and a longtime RW contributor and columnist. He’s been a radio reporter for many years, most recently with CBS News Radio. Find him on Twitter @msrpk_com.