Ford's fix to debug its Sync on-board connectivity system is in the mail, and company executives are hoping they can now resume their brand's upward arc in the infotainment universe.
The company announced that its dealers started receiving the software upgrade packages on Monday, containing USB flash drives with the revised version of MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch, which essentially are Sync 2.0, and about 300,000 customers who bought the systems will be receiving them soon.
Consumer confusion over how to operate those systems contributed greatly to lower ratings of the overall Ford brand in influential surveys conducted by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates last year and vanquished much of the lead that Ford had established several years ago with its trailblazing Sync service.
Now, Ford executives are confident that Sync will regain its mojo because of the upgrade. It includes simplification of graphics and a speed-up in response times for touch- and voice-activated functions. It'll take owners about an hour to install the upgrade in their vehicles, and the new version will be included in 2013 models.
Having spent a year putting together a recovery from the MyFord Touch problems identified last year, Ford is choosing to spin the required upgrading as a consumer-education exercise as well. It could be a "tipping point" for consumer understanding that they can upgrade their cars just as they do their smartphones and computers, Gary Jablonski, Ford's product-development manager for infotainment, commented to Automotive News.
Ford's press release reiterated that it's more than just a fix but an opportunity to improve the overall Sync experience:
In addition to the simplified interface and faster performance, Ford engineers added new features including better phone compatibility, support for tablet computers and Audible audiobooks, improved navigation maps and destination entry. The upgraded system will roll out to all new 2013 models that offer MyFord Touch, and the improved software will be offered to more than 300,000 current owners to improve their driving experience even further.
The release also cited the fact that customer order rates for MyFord Touch have increased by 5 percentage points heading into the new model year, for both Explorer and Edge, which already were at 79 percent and 72 percent, respectively.
Still, Ford has got to hope the transition goes smoothly. For a reminder of how important Sync has become to how consumers perceive the brand overall, executives need refer only to a week ago, when a new Consumer Reports reliability survey dropped Ford to 10th place from its previous fifth place, in large part because of what the magazine called the "troublesome MyFord Touch infotainment system."
Though the drives are no bigger than their thumbs, Ford hopes that the upgrades, like Thumbelina, will make Sync owners dance and sing.