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Ford Syncs up Focus

Get connected: Sync3 is now available on all mainstream Focus variants while the ST and RS sports models will get it in November.

Sync3 technology the new focus for freshly updated Ford range

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29 Aug 2016

FORD Australia has launched its Sync3 infotainment system on its Focus and Mondeo models, with a new tri-tile interface replacing the previous quadrant formation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity making its debut.

An evolution of the Sync2 software that was introduced in the Falcon and Territory in 2014, Sync3 will be added to Mustang, Everest and Ranger from September, followed by a November rollout in Focus ST and RS – although there are no plans for Ford’s smallest offering, the Fiesta, to include the system.

Ford explained that 15 million cars and trucks have been produced around the world with the brand’s in-house infotainment system, but it expects that figure to triple before 2020 as Sync finds widespread usage in affordable models.

It also said that according to its research 77 per cent of existing Sync2 users would recommend the system to their family and friends, while 22,000 customer comments and suggestions have guided the development of its replacement.

Every Focus, including the entry Trend priced from $23,390 plus on-road costs, has Sync3 as standard equipment, and Ford further claimed that the system offered customers greater access than any other vehicle in its class.

It listed Siri Eyes Free voice control and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity as advantages over Mazda’s MZD-Connect and Toyota’s ToyotaLink and although Volkswagen’s AppConnect and Honda’s DisplayAudio match the Ford in those respects, only some models include digital radio and integrated satellite navigation.

For the first time a Sync system gets Pandora, Spotify and TuneIn internet smartphone app connectivity, following the availability in above rivals, however only Mazda offers the ability to run apps off an iPhone without a USB cable.

Few rivals allow the infotainment system to be updated over a Wi-Fi connection – another new Sync feature – while the carry-over emergency assistance function can for the first time notify emergency services about the type of accident that occurred and also seatbelt usage.

Speaking at a media event in Sydney last week, Ford Australia senior applications engineer of infotainment and telematics George Christopoulos argued that users now see smartphones such as the Apple iPhone as a connectivity benchmark and this underpinned Sync3 development.

“What we’ve really tried to do and what we’ve been benchmarking is smartphones, because that’s what customers are using in their day-to-day lives and that’s what they expect from a touchscreen these days,” he said.

“(Our aim was to) make it more intuitive, easier to use and even quicker so that you get that smartphone-like experience.”

Software changes were backed by a hardware shift to a “much more responsive capacitive touchscreen” according to the applications engineer.

Ford also aimed to offer users a choice between using the brand’s integrated satellite navigation or the third-party Apple Maps or Google Maps systems so the user did not feel restricted.

“We’ve tried to make it as seamless as possible to give a transition between the two systems (and) to give the customer as much choice as possible in how to interact with the system,” Mr Christopoulos added.

“We’re trying to make sure that whatever they want to use, we’re supporting them.”

He said customers were increasingly expecting these features to be offered as standard equipment across the range, rather than as options, and believed Ford was among the first mainstream manufacturers to do this.

“It helps us to stand apart in a marketplace that’s very crowded, it gives us that ‘wow’ factor which helps elevate our products above our competitors,” Mr Christopoulos claimed.

“The big take home for me is that (compared with rivals) we offer embedded integration with all these systems, but also with the introduction of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, where our competitors offer one or the other.”

Following the media event, Ford Australia organised a drive loop around Sydney’s CBD in a Sync3-equipped Focus to test its new voice control and improved nav capabilities.

We found the system is among the fastest of any competitors to use when switching between screens and utilising functions, while the voice control system similarly detects commands in a speedier fashion than expected.

The ‘one shot’ voice control can still be clumsy, however, and despite Ford’s claim that the system has been tuned for local accent recognition, our particular Focus did not detect the most quintessentially Aussie of suburbs: Bondi Beach.

The system forces users to read out the street number, street and suburb in that particular order, which is not helpful if you just want to go to the city centre, yet it also detected the main street of Bondi Beach as being in the suburb of ‘Sydney’.

In order to access the suburb, the voice control needs to first pick up Bondi as a suburb, then find the beachside suburb via a Points of Interest (POI) command.

The integrated satellite navigation generally worked adeptly, though it suffered from a pessimistic arrival time and failed to detect heavy traffic or offer an alternative route. It also requested a right-turn at a left-turn-only intersection.

Although Ford executives acknowledged that work continues to finesse what is, to be fair, an incredibly complex system, ultimately Google Maps already offers greater intuition – and that is an alternative for Sync3 users anyway.

Indeed, by far the most impressive aspect of Sync3 is its sheer breadth of connectivity options for the user. From digital radio, to integrated nav, smartphone nav, integrated voice control, smartphone Siri voice control, and myriad internet apps, it is the new benchmark particularly in a sub-$25K Focus.

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