Ford's vision for the connected car

A few years ago, car makers thought they were going to be phone manufacturers as well. "You were going to have your home number, your office number and a phone number for the car too," Ford's in-house futurist Sheryl Connelly remembers. That wasn't practical.

Not only are car makers not mobile phone experts, but a built-in phone would be out of date long before the car itself - imagine a new car coming with MySpace integration. "The average car on the road is 10 or 11 years old," Connelly points out. "In that time you'll own something like five or seven different phones and you'll want all of them to work with your car."

That means Ford has to worry about your car - which CEO Alan Mulally has called the largest and most expensive mobile phone accessory you'll ever buy - becoming obsolete.

The connected car means a few different things to Ford, Connelly told TechRadar. The first is keeping you in the loop while you're in the car. That's something drivers are demanding, she says.

"We're responding to the marketplace. Consumers are saying 'I need constant connectivity'; they're bringing devices into the vehicle already, so we're finding ways to do that safely." The problem is that drivers are often bored; the average car speed worldwide is only 20mph, people commute for hours every week - and companies are demanding that employees be productive while they're travelling.

Ford's solution is Ford SYNC, which is already in 4 million cars, is an option on new cars and might soon be offered as a system you can add to your current car.

Ford SYNC has built-in features called My Ford Touch, including GPS navigation with the touchscreen, and voice control with a 10,000 word vocabulary for playing music or sending texts from a phone connected by Bluetooth.

Recognising that it isn't going to come up with all the apps you want, Ford's AppLink enables smartphone apps to work with SYNC. Put Pandora or TuneIn Radio on your phone, take it into the car and you can control the app with the SYNC voice control or the games console-inspired five-way controller on the steering wheel.

The My Ford Touch interface puts two screens behind the steering wheel for information the driver needs all the time and one in the centre console to use when you're parked, or for the passenger.

If you use TeleNav Scout for GPS navigation you can look up places to go on your phone and send them to the car's navigation system to get a route. Apps can work together, so TuneIn could find you radio stations for areas on your route so you can hear local news.

Ford's free Destinations app will use Yelp for finding businesses and the excellent INRIX service to predict what traffic will be like later in the day, and it adds business names to the voice recognition so you can ask your car questions such as 'what's traffic like to Heathrow airport" and have it tell you how long it will take to get there, which road it will suggest and how bad the traffic is.

SYNC will ask if you need directions, but this is really useful for routes you drive regularly; you already know the way, and the alternatives - you just want to know which one to take today. Using the car's GPS saves your phone battery, too.

Smart car

Ford has ideas for other useful services, such as having your car look up what the pollen level is like if you have hayfever, or monitoring your heart rate.

And if you get one of Ford's new electric cars (the all-electric Focus reaches the UK at the end of 2012, and is already available in the US), you can see how much charge it has from your phone and set it to start charging in the middle of the night when power demand is lower, rather than as soon as you plug it in.


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.