Ford has some big ideas about the future of apps – and of all the big car manufacturers, it understands that not everyone's on the lookout for a fancy in-car entertainment system.
We want to hook our iPhone or Android up to the motor in question via Bluetooth and use our existing apps in a car-friendly way. And with 5,000 developers downloading Ford's SDK to make their apps compatible with its SYNC platform, it looks like app-enabled cars could soon become a reality.
We've been having a play with voice-controlled news reading, navigation, hotel booking and car parking space-locating apps connected via SYNC and all from our own handset.
All Your Existing Apps
The beauty of the AppLink system is that everything's synced up and ready to go as soon as you plump your behind down in the car. The voice recognition doesn't rely on your phone's capabilities or the likes of Google Voice; instead, it uses Ford's own tech to keep things consistent. App developers can give Ford vocab to plug in to this voice tech so that for instance, you can search for artists and playlists hands-free when using Spotify.
Using basic voice commands, we instructed the TomTom app to give us directions to a friend's address – taken from a list of contacts – with no fuss and zero prodding or fumbling about with satnavs. Ford has just announced a voice activated Hotels.com app, too – but since we don't usually book hotels in our car, we tested out the Autoread app instead.
Created with Deutsche Telecom, Autoread can read emails and text messages out to you and take dictations. It's also handy, as we found out in our demo, for reading out the morning's RSS feeds from pre-defined categories so you can get a personalised news bulletin on the way to work. The overall experience wasn't the smoothest but Ford assures us it will get better and better the next few months.
A note on accents: Brits might struggle with SYNC's voice recognition when in the UK - according to Ford, the system prefers American pronunication and even European speakers' accents when speaking to English to the British accent. So that might explain a couple of the hiccups we had – but we're willing to reserve judgement for a test of the final SYNC and AppLink software when that's ready.
Unless European legislation makes access to emergency services a mandatory feature of in-car systems – which it easily could – Ford's ploughing on with the smartphone route. Even if these laws are passed, Ford says that it's committed to letting its drivers use their existing apps in a driving-friendly, distraction-free way. That gets a thumbs up from us.
When Can I Get AppLink?
The Ford EcoSport is the only European model to offer this beefed up AppLink and Sync set-up. But with Ford's "App Catalog" rolling out across Europe and an open source approach allowing other manufacturers to implement it, the EcoSport could soon have company.
If you're reading from the US, you've got a better chance of living an app-heavy Ford dream. According to Ford, over one million cars - including Fusions and Fiestas – are now equipped with AppLink. Happy chatting.