Ford is finally bringing their much touted voice controlled in-car communications & entertainment system, SYNC (powered by Microsoft), to India with the launch of their new urban SUV, the Ford EcoSport.
Ford & Microsoft first introduced SYNC back in 2007 at the Detroit International Auto Show. Developed by Ford, SYNC was based on Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. Since then, Ford SYNC has been part of various Ford vehicles launched in the North American and the European markets. And with the EcoSport, Ford is finally introducing this SYNC technology to India.
We got a chance to try out SYNC at the Ford EcoSport Tech Deep Dive event in Goa, and here are our thoughts on this impressive feature for the Ford cars.
What is SYNC?
SYNC is a voice controlled communications & entertainment system which connects to your devices and lets you make and answer calls, play and control the music playback as well as reads out your SMSes and lets you reply back from a set of pre-set templates all with just voice commands, without you having to touch or fiddle with your devices so that you can continue driving.
The SYNC in the EcoSport supports three simultaneous connections which you can switch between – 2 devices over Bluetooth and a USB Drive. From the 2 devices, answering and making phone calls is supported for one any one device which you have to set as the Primary device, whereas the second device can only be used for media playback. This lets you connect your phone as the primary device, and lets your friends and people travelling with your connect their phones just for the media playback. Along with the 2 bluetooth connected devices, there is also a USB port to connect a USB drive to play music off it, which can also be controlled by voice commands.
Connecting the devices to SYNC is as easy as pairing devices over Bluetooth, and only needs to be done once. SYNC will automatically connect to your devices next time as soon as they are within the Bluetooth range. We found this system to be very convenient as it lets you move in and out of car without having to worry or even thinking about connecting the device every time. By the time you are seated in the car, the device is already connected and ready to be controlled.
For this initial release, Ford has included 3 primary features in their SYNC support – Calling, Messaging & Music.
To make calls, you can either speak our the entire number you want to call to or you can say the name of your contact. When a device is connected as the primary device, SYNC gives you an option to download the entire phonebook onto SYNC, so that you can call those contacts directly by speaking out their name. You can also answer any calls you receive directly with SYNC, without once having to touch your phone.
For messaging, SYNC can read out incoming SMSes to you if you ask it to, and also send a quick reply using pre-set templates which you can change to whatever you liked. When asked, we were told that Ford purposefully left out the ability to speak out entire messages to reply as it hinders with the drivers concentration and poses a safety risk. In our trial, the Messaging feature did not work with out Windows Phone 8 running Nokia Lumia 720 nor with the Android 4.1 running Lenovo S890. Due to the different configurations and software versions, Ford said it is difficult to support every device in the market, but they keep adding support for new devices with every software update for SYNC released, which we will get to later on.
We were most impressed with the Music control of SYNC. SYNC’s superior voice recognition engine really shows its class over here. You can play and control the music from all 3 of your devices, and even switching between the devices and the USB is done with voice commands. You can ask SYNC to play music from a specific Artist, Album or Genre by simply using the voice commands like “Play Artist Michael Jackson”. The basic playback control to pause music, switch to the next track etc are all covered as well.
Voice Recognition –
Voice Recognition is the heart of SYNC and we were slightly apprehensive how good the voice recognition for the Indian accent would be. But Ford has done a fabulous job with their voice recognition engine, and we faced no difficulty in calling our contacts or with any of the commands. Almost every command works on the first go itself. On top of that, we were told that SYNC gets better at recognizing your voice over time.
Voice commands can be activated by pressing the SYNC key on the steering wheel. You can also control the volume from the steering wheel itself.
SYNC is a software based on Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. Ford keeps working on adding new features and support for more devices over time, which are then released as a software update for SYNC. We were told that on an average, about 2 or 3 updates are released every year. Owners can get their cars update by taking it to any of the Ford Dealers, or they can update SYNC by themselves by simply downloading the update package to the USB Drive and connecting the drive to the car’s USB Port.
Emergency Assist -
Ford has also implemented a very useful Emergency Assist feature, which will call the emergency response helpline number 108 using the bluetooth connected phone automatically whenever an airbag is deployed, or the emergency fuel pump is shut off. In such a scenario, SYNC will first prompt the user that it will place the call to the emergency helpline number and the user has 10 seconds to cancel SYNC from making the call. Once the call is connected, SYNC first automatically informs the emergency staff that the vehicle has been in an accident and provides the vehicle’s GPS co-ordinates before opening up the line to the car passengers to talk to the emergency assist staff.
Ford EcoSport will be available in India in July, with pricing still to be announced.