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Ford’s Sync System Gets Huge Upgrade with Better Looks and Performance

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech
Ford Sync 3 system

(Ford)

If you’ve driven a 2011 or newer Ford, you’ve probably used the company’s Sync with MyFord Touch infotainment system. And chances are you found it frustrating.

Its interface is clunky and difficult to navigate at highway speeds, and text is way too small. What’s more, the huge number of options available onscreen makes the whole thing feel overwhelming.

But the company’s upcoming vehicles will be different, thanks to Ford’s next-generation in-dash system, Sync 3. Unveiled today, Sync 3 is meant to provide a cleaner, faster, more intuitive infotainment system for Ford customers. And after spending a brief amount of time with a Sync 3 test unit, it looks like Ford has hit the mark.

A cleaner look
I’ve spent more time than I would have liked using Ford’s current Sync with MyFord Touch system. My parents own a Ford Fusion with it. It’s tough to use. At first blush, the system, which breaks up the touchscreen into four quadrants for Entertainment, Navigation, Climate, and Phone, seems like it would work well for most drivers.

Behind the wheel, it’s another story. Things are difficult to find, text is too small, and onscreen buttons aren’t nearly big enough.

Ford Sync 3 system showing Pandora app

(Daniel Howley/ Yahoo Tech)

In the new Sync 3, the quadrants are gone, replaced by a more traditional home screen broken up between a large map for navigation on one half of the screen, a portion that shows what you’re listening to, and info about your phone. It sounds like a lot, but it works well.

At the bottom of the screen are a series of large buttons that point to the Audio, Climate, Phone, Nav, Apps, and Settings menus. Text on the screen is cleaner and bigger. What’s more, the home screen’s background color is brighter and easier to see in bright light, whereas the current Sync system uses a darker background, which reflects sunlight and shows fingerprints.

Putting apps first
Beyond its cleaner design, Sync 3 also does a good deal to help give drivers easier access to Sync apps. Sync automatically detects what apps on your iPhone or Android device are Sync-compatible, and automatically puts a shortcut to them in the Sync Apps menu.

Ford Sync 3 app offerings

(Ford)

That’s a huge benefit, as it means your apps are right there where you need them, when you need them. So far, there are about 60 apps that work with its Sync system, with more on the way. During my demo, I saw only Pandora and NPR running, though, both looked wonderful and included huge buttons and text that should be easy to read.

Better still, iPhone owners can now run two apps with Sync at the same time, something Android owners have already been able to do. So now, if you’re listening to Spotify, you can still navigate to your Weather app without Spotify automatically closing. You don’t get to see two apps on the screen at once, but it’s certainly an upgrade.

Strangely, Ford still doesn’t offer Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto apps. CarPlay is an app that runs on your infotainment system and, when opened, mirrors your iPhone’s home screen, allowing you to interact with apps just like you do on your phone. Of course, there are limitations as to what apps you can use for safety reasons.

Apple CarPlay

Apple CarPlay. (Apple)

Android Auto, on the other hand, is an app that, like CarPlay, runs on your car’s infotainment system. But instead of mirroring your phone’s home screen, it provides you with an Android-style interface.

Google Android Auto

Google Android Auto. (Google)

Siri eyes-free
Sync 3 also brings with it Apple’s Siri Eyes-Free mode, which lets you access Apple’s voice assistant by pressing and holding the voice navigation button on your car’s steering wheel.

Ford Sync 3

(Daniel Howley/ Yahoo Tech)

With Siri, you’ll be able to do things like dictate text messages and perform simple voice searches. Currently, Android owners who receive text messages can only use Ford’s Sync voice commands to reply with a canned response.

My only problem with Siri’s application in the car is that Ford doesn’t specifically state that the voice assistant can’t control vehicle-specific features like the radio or navigation. I’m willing to bet that there are some drivers who will expect that to work, and without Ford saying it won’t, they’ll be disappointed.

The outlook
It seems as though Ford has genuinely learned from the issues that made its Sync with MyFord Touch system so awkward and difficult to use. The company says it took suggestions from some 20,000 drivers and tried to implement as much of their feedback as possible.

Ford Sync 3

(Daniel Howley/ Yahoo Tech)

Based on what I saw, Sync 3 will be a major improvement over the automaker’s current system. But, to be honest, there isn’t really much here that blows you away. It’s certainly better, but it’s not anything like Apple’s CarPlay app, nor Google’s competing Android Auto.

Nonetheless, the improvements to Sync will make new Fords nicer to live with. Everything is easier to understand and use, and the app surfacing feature is wonderful. Now if they could just get on that whole flying car thing.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.