By Jim Kerr

I seem to be out of Sync. I look around and there are young (and young at heart) people everywhere walking around with mobile electronics (there were 57 million people born between 1981 and 1995). Maybe they are talking or text messaging on a cell phone, sending pictures to a friend, or perhaps you notice the ear bud wires for their MP3 player as they walk along. Mobile electronics communications have changed the way the current generation interacts and now Ford is bringing this to the automobile.

Ford has announced the launch of a new factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system based on Microsoft Auto software. It is called Sync and it is an updateable communications tool that will allow consumers the convenience of connecting their mobile electronics to their vehicle electronics seamlessly. The systems can then be operated using voice commands or the vehicle’s steering wheel or radio controls. This may sound like science fiction, but it is here today. The 2008 Ford Focus will be the first vehicle to offer the Sync system and it will appear on other 2008 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products soon.

Using Bluetooth wireless connection technology, Sync can connect up to six different cell phones to the vehicle. With the cell phone initially “paired” to the vehicle, the phone’s personal features such as phone book and ring tones are automatically downloaded to the vehicle. The vehicle’s built-in microphone and speakers now allow hands-free phone calls to be made. Incoming calls use the phone’s distinctive ring tone. For outgoing calls, the caller can say the phone number digits or the person’s name that they want to call, so the driver’s eyes can stay on the road. Sync even offers call waiting (good when driving), caller ID and three-way calling capability.

Ford Sync works with a variety of devices
Ford Sync works with a variety of devices. Click image to enlarge

Leave the car and your conversation is seamlessly transferred to the cell phone so phone calls are not interrupted. The phone book remains stored in the vehicle’s memory even when the phone is out of the vehicle, but the Sync security program will not let it be accessed until the phone is in the vehicle again.

Like to text message instead of talking? Sync works for that too, translating the incoming text message and abbreviations into audio messages played over the vehicle’s audio system. Twenty pre-determined responses that can be downloaded and customized, allow the vehicle occupant to say their response instead of stopping to text back a message.

Audiophiles were not left out. Plug in your portable music player and you have voice control of the system. Nearly all portable music players including Apple iPod, all MP3 players with “Plays for Sure” technology, and Microsoft’s new music player, Zune work with the Sync system. The system supports MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and PCM formats, so almost any tune can be played. Driver’s can select music by the song, artist, genre, album or playlist simply by pressing the voice command button on the steering wheel and asking for your selection. Sync will let you do everything that you normally would on the portable music player, without ever having to touch it. Then the Sync system will display your selection on the vehicle’s audio system display.

A USB 2.0 port on the dashboard can also be used to play music stored on flash memory sticks and can charge the portable player’s battery while it is playing.

Sync is fluent in English, French and Spanish. As new software versions become available, Sync can be updated via a web site or from a Ford or Lincoln dealer. The current generation of young adults have grown up connected to the web. Sync will provide new levels of connectivity with automobiles, and instead of having to look away from the road, they can keep their eyes on the road and concentrate on driving. I may have to get in Sync!

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