How Ford Sync Works

By: Ed Piotrowski & Jamie Page Deaton

Image Gallery: Car Safety Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Co., presents the new Ford Sync automotive mobile communications system at the CeBIT technology trade fair on March 1, 2011 in Hanover, Germany. See more car safety pictures.
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Everyone likes to be connected -- you only have to look at the explosion of the smart phone market to see that. Even when far from home, people like to be able to access and update social media like Twitter and Facebook, have instant and direct contact with family and friends, and get the info they need, like weather, sports stats and traffic updates, to get through their day. While it's easy to get all of this information on a smartphone or other mobile device, we all know that using a phone, particularly for things like browsing the web, is dangerous while driving.

While everyone knows using a phone while driving is dangerous, lots of people still do it. A 2010 Pew Internet study found that 27 percent of adults admit to texting while driving, and 61 percent admit to talking on the phone when driving [source: Pew]. Of those that admit to using a phone for talking for texting while driving, 17 percent report hitting an object while using their phones.


It's clear that people aren't going to give up connectivity just because they're driving. That's one of the reasons that Ford offers its Sync infotainment system in all models of the Ford and Lincoln brands. Sync connects the car to a cell phone, allowing the driver to use voice commands for things like making calls or playing MP3 files. It also uses voice commands for the car's systems, like the radio, navigation and climate controls, so the driver's eyes are always on the road.

In order to use Sync, a driver's cell phone must be Bluetooth enabled. With the Bluetooth connection, Sync connects to the phone wirelessly. Sync can read incoming texts to the driver, and place calls. With additional services, like Ford's Traffic, Directions and Information services, drivers can get spoken directions, traffic updates, and information like weather, sports scores and even movie listings through voice commands in their cars. The number of things Sync can do is impressive, especially when you consider that it's available on affordable models like the subcompact Ford Fiesta. Keep reading to learn how Sync works and how other car companies are nipping at Ford's heels with their own Sync-like systems.


How Sync Works: Microsoft Auto Software

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.
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

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.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Madden, Mary and Lee Rainie. "Adults and Cell Phone Distractions." Pew Internet and American Life Project. June 18, 2010. (Aug. 19, 2011)
  • Ford. "SYNC Steps up to the Plate with Fantasy Baseball Updates Available Hands-Free from Ford." Ford Motor Company. June 16, 2001. (Aug. 19, 2011)
  • Ford. "Fact Sheet: Ford SYNC Voice-Controlled Communications and Connectivity System." Ford Motor Company. (Aug. 19, 2011)
  • General Motors. "OnStar Helps Your Phone Tell Your Car Where to Go." General Motors. Aug. 29, 2011. (Aug. 19, 2011)
  • Hyundai Motor America. "BlueLink." Hyundai Motor America. (Aug. 19, 2011)