Over the past few years, Ford has been transforming its identity from automotive giant to technology titan. Now, it's taking another step toward re-imagining the vehicle as a computing platform.
On Monday, January 4, Ford announced new updates to its SYNC connectivity system including support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and 4G LTE connectivity, as well as a host of new AppLink Apps.
In the North American market, the updates will begin rolling out this year, beginning with the 2017 Ford Escape. Ford owners who have a 2016 model equipped with SYNC 3 (the third iteration of SYNC) will be able to upgrade later in 2016.
Apple CarPlay works with iPhone 5 or later, and will give iPhone users the ability to access their smartphones in a familiar interface. Drivers simply plug their phone into the USB port and the CarPlay interface pops up, providing access to Siri and other hands-free features.
Android Auto—compatible with Android 5.0 or higher—will give Android users similar capabilities. Popular services like Google Maps, Google Play Music, and Google voice search will be available to users via the built-in touchscreen in the dashboard.
Of course, the news of Apple and Android integrations are garnering the most attention, but the additional updates will prove useful for Ford customers as well. With 4G LTE connectivity, Ford owners get more remote access features, using their smartphone to remote start the car, unlock the doors, check the fuel level, or find out where they parked.
Additionally, new apps utilizing the SYNC AppLink voice control feature combined with vehicle information were also announced:
- AAA/CAA allows users to better plan their route, locate gas stations, and check fuel prices.
- Concur will let business travelers automatically log mileage for a business trip into a journal where it can later be reconciled for use in an expense report.
- Eventseeker helps drivers discover nearby events based on interests.
- Cityseeker brings city information to the drive including restaurants, nightlife, and attractions.
- Tencent Chelian allows drivers to access the Chinese social media platform, including its messaging app, QQ.
Developers will also get better access to AppLink capabilities with a new "send location" feature that will allow an app to integrate with the vehicle's navigation system.
SYNC was initially released in 2007 with Microsoft as the key product partner, powering the first two generations of the service—Ford Sync and MyFord Touch. In 2014, Ford dropped Microsoft in favor of BlackBerry's QNX software for the current iteration SYNC 3.
The shift to welcome both Apple and Android into the system is a smart move by Ford, and one that is more reflective of the current state of the worldwide smartphone market. Android is in the dominant position, according to Gartner research, with 84.7% of the OS market share, while iOS is in second place with 13.1%.
"I think it's a necessary move...everyone will eventually do this, I suspect," said Gartner's Ken Dulaney.
Currently, there are more than 15 million SYNC-powered Ford vehicles on the road and the company expects that number to jump to 43 million by 2020.
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Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.