Ford Is Syncing; Others Are Shrinking

January 25th, 2009

First off, let me say that I drive a relatively simple car, a 2003 VW GTI, that doesn’t even have an outdoor temp gauge. And I like it that way. You concentrate on driving, not looking at or listening to or playing with extraneous stuff.

eathing-while-drivingBut I am clearly bucking a trend, because more and more vehicles are coming with more and more devices for entertainment, information, phone, wireless and other services—most of which are for personal convenience rather than enhancement or support of the driving experience.

The car is becoming just another hub in the social network web that, happily or not, connects us all. If you applaud that idea, you’ll love Ford’s (and Microsoft’s) Sync system. Available on most of Ford’s 2008 cars, Sync is in fact pretty cool but has some limitations, according to one source.

[It] allows various portable digital music players (i.e., the iPod and Zune) and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones to be operated with simple voice commands. SYNC can even receive text messages and read them aloud using a digitized female voice “Samantha.” SYNC can interpret a hundred or so shorthand messages such as LOL for “laughing out loud” and will read swear words; it won’t however, decipher obscene acronyms.

The next-gen version of Sync was recently introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. It now gives you personalized traffic reports, text message traffic alerts, turn-by-turn driving directions, business, weather and sports read aloud, and more. Click the video to listen in on a fascinating phone call from Amy to her mom.

At CES, Ford announced more plans for other “environments” to be brought into the car—things like a mobile computer for F-150s with a printer so the busy contractor can print out invoices, hopefully not while driving.

Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas (what a title, better than Obama’s!), was recently interviewed by Advertising Age: “A car used to just get you from Point A to Point B. What a car is becoming now is not only getting you from Point A to Point B, but allowing you to stay connected to the entire world as you’re doing it.”

Despite the fact that cars have never been about just getting you from Point A to Point B, is this kind of connection really a good idea? The premise is that connectivity anywhere, any time is valuable. Well, I would not want it in the bathroom, bedroom or, frankly, in my car. The fact that it’s in your car can be nothing but a distraction from the business of driving.

Others will argue that people unfolding and reading maps while driving is a lot more dangerous than listening to GPS prompts from “Samantha,” and maybe they’re right.

Where do you come down on these devices? Are you pro-Sync or con?

—jgoods

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