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Greg GazinA secure, functional, seamless and enjoyable customer experience with in-car infotainment is an absolute necessity given technological advancements and the need to keep people safe on the road.

That’s why Ford has delivered its latest version of SYNC 3, which will first be featured in the soon-to-be-released 2020 Ford Explorer.

“People expect systems to be easier to use and more intuitive,” says Chuck Gray, director of Electrical and Electronic Systems Engineering at Ford Motor Co. “And we wanted to take more control over that.”

It’s the first version to be fully designed in-house at Ford and was recently unveiled to at the company’s high-tech Connectivity and Innovation Centre (CIC) in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata.

“The customer experience is the key differentiator,” says Gray. “The latest version of SYNC 3 has been based on customer feedback, the  people who are driving and interacting with their Ford vehicles every day.”

Many in-car infotainment systems are an afterthought. They’re clunky and unattractive, forcing you to conform to counterintuitive designs.

An in-car demonstration of SYNC 3 proved that getting connected and finding functions is no longer a scavenger hunt, although we were limited to static, pre-production units.

SYNC 3 immediately feels familiar, like using an app. It’s based on Blackberry’s QNX operating system, and has a thoughtful layout.

You need to see things quickly, clearly and navigate efficiently, so there’s minimum font size limits and screen brightness to ensure you’re not squinting and taking your eyes off the road for too long.

SYNC 3 minimizes the number of steps required to complete a task, maxing out at eight, and most tasks take no more than two or three steps. Many functions can also be accessed via voice control.

Some controls have been moved from the console cluster to SYNC 3. They’re easier to find and if you’re not sure how one works, a visual indication like a video or animation can explain it to you. No manual required.

One of the clever enhancements is to have all your audio presets (AM/FM/XM) on the main screen, regardless of the media stream.

Smart Favourites and Tune Start features will excite SiriusXM enthusiasts. The former buffers the last 30 minutes from your XM favourites as soon as you crank the engine and the latter ensures when you switch to your favourites, the song begins on the first note.

What really makes SYNC 3 shine is the new 10.1-inch high-definition portrait display, a first for Ford Engineers, featured in the 2020 Ford Explorer’s Platinum trim package (other models have an eight-inch widescreen).  It sits high, vertically on the dash, so you’re looking less to the right. 

Feedback can now be sent directly to Ford through SYNC 3, enabling engineers to diagnose any issues and plan improvements. And with the customer’s consent, SYNC 3 can track how customers use and interact with the software, capturing analytics to help with improvements.

Ford Parking Garage at the CIC

“It’s not like the typical garage you’d find at a dealer,” says Zoltan Racz, chief engineer at the centre. “We don’t swap tires or work on transmissions. We work on electronics.”

Prototypes or “mules” are retrofitted in vehicles. These tests are non-safety critical so they won’t jeopardize lives. The staff run tests in loops in the garage first to ensure there will be no loss of service on the road.

Above the garage is the Accelerated Life Test Lab, where the software stability team can be found. They simulate hours and days of the software running in the vehicle to find any defects or pain-points. The scenarios cover single components to multiple aspects of multiple components and subsystems.

Ford says it will have 4G LTE connectivity in all new vehicles in the North American market by the end of this year.

“Connectivity is a foundational component of our strategy to deliver smart vehicles in a smart world … vehicles will be able to talk to each other talk to the cloud and everything around it safely and seamlessly and with an optimal customer experience,” says Gray.

The modem testing lab is shielded from any radio frequencies – even smartphones won’t work. The controlled environment is used to test continuous 4G LTE connectivity and next-generation technologies.

“This allows us to test the North American variant, Europe, China, anywhere we sell cars without having to be in those locations.” adds Racz.

SYNC debuted in 2007 and SYNC 3 was introduced in 2015. The new SYNC 3 will debut this summer in the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer. A SYNC 3 software upgrade may be available for some 2018 and later Ford models.

Troy Media columnist Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at GadgetGuy.ca.

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