Ford spent four years building a huge edge in infotainment with its Microsoft-powered SYNC connected entertainment system, and the last thing the automaker could afford to do was fumble away this advantage.
So after initially spending a few months grasping for answers to widespread customer dissatisfaction with MyFord Touch — essentially, the second generation of SYNC — the Ford brain trust has announced that it will be sending free software upgrades to the system early next year to everyone affected. Amazingly, Bret Michaels turned out not to be the best way to ease confusion.
The MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch software upgrade, which will be sent to owners on a flash drive, will render screens simpler and cleaner, with larger text and shading to outline buttons, as well as improve (in this era of Siri) voice recognition and make other digital features more intuitive.
Ford's hope is it can mollify a customer base that found the original embellishments to Sync overwhelmed them with information or didn't perform as well as they should have — or as Ford puts it, Sync could be faster, simpler and easier to use. The upgrade will be launching first on the launching first on the new 2013 Ford Escape, Flex and Taurus.
Ford knew about such problems as long as a year ago and worked internally to figure out what to do. Nothing could be more important than continuing the success of the Sync platform, which became a profit-making fixture for the company because even buyers of low-end vehicles such as Ford Focus clamored for the infotainment option. And when J.D. Power's 2011 industry-quality rankings slammed Ford because of the MyFord Touch difficulties — and publicly besmirched a quality reputation that had grown along with Ford's performance in the marketplace over the last few years — the need to make amends intensified.
Over the last few months, Ford had focused on better training of dealership personnel and on hand-holding individual customers as they tried to figure out MyFord Touch. First, the company added a new MyFord Touch owner support website featuring how-to videos at syncmyride.com. Second, free “SYNC My Ride” personalized training sessions for new owners are now offered through Ford dealers – scheduled at customers’ convenience.
But in the end, a more comprehensive approach clearly was required. And from now on, CEO Alan Mulally told Automotive News, Ford will have tightened quality-control processes for developing those systems' software. "We haven't changed anything about our strategy on introducing" the technology in new vehicles, he said.
But in the meantime, as Sync stalled, competitors have had a chance to catch up in the infotainment arena, and many have made great progress. Sync's lost year might be an edge that it can never regain.