Ford Motor Company shows off the Ford Fiesta (front) and the 2010 Ford Flex to the world automotive media during the North American International Auto show on Jan. 11, 2009 at Cobo Center in Detroit, Mich.

Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images

How Sync Works: Microsoft Auto Software

To power Sync, Ford powered with Microsoft for the software. Microsoft created Microsoft Auto software, which can interface with just about any current MP3 player or Bluetooth cell phone. Passengers can connect their cell phones through Sync's integrated Bluetooth technology. The software will seek the address book and transfer the names and numbers to an internal database. Like many existing Bluetooth cell phone links, Sync is capable of voice-activated, hands-free calling. Push a button on the steering wheel, and you can speak the name or number you wish to call.

Sync diverts from the traditional Bluetooth path by utilizing text-to-speech technology to read aloud any text messages you might receive while driving. The system can translate commonly used text message phrases such as "LOL" (laughing out loud). In turn, you can reply to an audible text message from one of 20 predefined responses. Sync also supports many of the other features found on cell phones, including caller ID, call waiting, conference calling, a caller log, and signal strength and battery charge icons. When you receive a call, Sync can play personal ring tones, including special tones for specific callers. All this information is shown on the radio display screen.

As Sync primarily runs on software, the system is upgradeable. Ford and Microsoft have plans to allow dealer service technicians to perform updates when the vehicles are in for scheduled maintenance. Updates may also be available on a Web-site for consumers to download and install.

Since the introduction of Sync in the 2008 model year, other car makers have launched similar systems. GM has expanded its OnStar service and integrated Sync-like features into its infotainment system, and has even added smartphone apps so drivers can do things like unlock and start their cars remotely. Hyundai is launching its Bluelink service on some 2012 models. Bluelink not only has things like vehicle tracing and crash notifications services, but also includes features like Bluetooth integration, and location services that allow your car to check in at various locations -- something that's helpful if you're a social media fanatic. While Ford's Sync system pioneered many of the features that are becoming commonplace in new cars, and is still very useful, other car makers are starting to push the limits of what we do in our cars.