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Ford dumps Microsoft in new SYNC

Latest generation of multimedia interface switches to QNX architecture

Published: December 27, 2014, 6:00 PM
Updated: June 19, 2018, 9:03 AM

Ford SYNC 3 on-board display

When Ford first introduced SYNC at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, its CEO Alan Mulally discussed the new in-vehicle multimedia control system with then Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, whose company provided the technology for the in-vehicle platform, in front of 1,000s of journalists from around the world.

SYNC would launch a revolution in the way vehicles addressed driver safety issues through voice control of things such as cell-phone calls and entertainment devices, and the way manufacturers would market their vehicles for user-friendliness.

Over the years since it first became prevalent on Ford models (starting in the 2008 model year), it has adapted to the changing dynamics of mobile devices, but it has come to be regarded as one of the least friendly of such systems in today’s vehicles.

As it heads into a new generation, Microsoft is out of the picture. The new system now uses the more versatile QNX platform.

Not only is Unix-based QNX already used by several other carmakers for their in-vehicle systems (among them Audi and General Motors), but it is also used in many modern mobile applications (most notably BlackBerry’s). The attractiveness of the QNX operating system is that it uses what’s called microkernel architecture, which allows programmers to isolate and fix bugs more quickly and with lessened disruptions to the system and its users.

It is also friendlier toward adaptation with other applications in the vehicular environment, such as sound-system acoustics and the noise cancellation that is so important to effective hands-free mobile calling.

Ford says it drew on 22,000 customer comments and suggestions, plus insights gleaned from research clinics, market surveys and tech industry benchmarking, in developing SYNC 3, and making the switch from Microsoft to QNX.

Those who have been exposed to the new version of SYNC, say it is vastly improved in terms of speed, user friendliness and intuitiveness, and it looks cleaner with fewer things on the screen to draw away drivers’ attention. And the graphic interface features many of today’s common Smartphone features, such as swiping and pinch-to-resize. And like the current generation of iPads, the screen will automatically change in reaction to ambient light, in order to eliminate reflections in diminished light or washing out from direct light.

“We considered all the modern Smartphones and mobile operating systems and created something familiar but unique,” said Parrish Hanna, Ford global director of Human Machine Interface. “Reducing the number of things on-screen also makes control easier and is designed to limit the number of times a driver has to glance at the screen.”

And as in previous generations, the new SYNC features improvements to voice recognition and control. The new system uses a more conversational interface, allowing drivers’ to call up the desired music by song-title, artist or playlist title (or radio station call numbers), or to navigate to a specific business by calling out the address or business type rather the individual street numbers or precise business name.

SYNC 3 is due to start showing up on the latest generation of Ford vehicles but, because it is a wholly new platform, it will not be updated on previous SYNC iterations (as had been the case through previous software versions).