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SYNC appears to be a big win so far for Ford, with the communications technology helping to move vehicles off dealer lots faster than vehicles without the system. Ford and Microsoft have been working to take SYNC to the next level, however, and the changes announced by Bill Gates at CES show that the technology is on an upward trajectory. Gates announced two new capabilities for SYNC that will help Ford offer a richer multimedia experience while competing with GM's OnStar satellite service.

First, SYNC will soon be able to assist drivers in calling 911 if an accident is detected. Drivers will need a SYNC-paired phone for SYNC 911 Assist to work, and since the SYNC simply uses the driver's phone, there is no monthly charge for the service. Ford tells us that it had to clear hurdles for 911 Assist because the government doesn't want systems to call 911 without human intervention, so a 10-second buffer gives drivers the ability to cancel the call. If the occupants of the vehicle are incapacitated, SYNC will automatically call 911 if the driver doesn't cancel the 911 call after 10 seconds. Ford points out that 911 Assist doesn't need an operator working as a 911 middle-man, giving it a speed advantage over OnStar. Hit the jump to read about SYNC's Vehicle Health Reports and Ford's official press release.

You can see a gallery of photos from the CES announcement here.

[Source: Ford]

The other SYNC advancement is Vehicle Health Reports, which will give owners a heads up if there is a warranty concern or if maintenance is needed. SYNC works with a car's onboard diagnostics system and an operational SYNC-paired phone to send info for up to two dozen systems to a Ford toll-free number. By going to syncmyride.com, drivers will be able to set up preferences for how and when the two-minute health check is run, and whether owners would like to have their results sent to them via email or text message.

Ford hasn't given specific dates for the SYNC updates, simply saying changes are due later in 2008. Current SYNC owners won't be left out in the cold either, as they can get SYNC 2.0 via a software update at their local Ford or Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, which is a smart move. With the new updates to SYNC, Ford will finally have a viable answer to OnStar, but after 18 months of exclusive rights to the Microsoft system, the rest of the automotive world will be able to offer SYNC, as well. Ford will have a big head start on the competition, however, with the system on almost every one of its model by year-end.



• Ford-Microsoft SYNC system to be available in nearly all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles later this year
• New "911 Assist" feature will help quickly connect vehicle occupants directly to a local 911 emergency operator following an air bag deployment in a SYNC-equipped vehicle – with no monthly fees
• Since SYNC is updatable, customers with 2008-model-year SYNC-equipped vehicles will be able to have their systems improved with the new applications

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 6, 2008 – Ford Motor Company and Microsoft announce today that the award-winning Ford SYNC™ in-car connectivity system will be available to even more customers and with even more functionality later this year.

In his keynote address at the 2008 International CES in Las Vegas, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that Ford will expand SYNC to nearly all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars and trucks by the end of 2008. Gates also confirmed a new "911 Assist" feature that will help drivers connect with emergency assistance in the event of an air bag deployment.

Introduced in the fall of 2007 and developed jointly by Ford and Microsoft, SYNC provides customers the convenience and flexibility to bring digital media players – Apple iPods, Microsoft Zunes and other MP3 players – and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones into their vehicle and operate the devices via voice commands or with the buttons on the steering wheel or radio.

SYNC has been very popular. The new technology – which is exclusive to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles – topped 30,000 unit sales in its first three months on the market. In fact, Ford says SYNC is on track to reach 1 million sales in early 2009.

The technology is available today on 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. Later this year, it will be offered on nearly every new Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle.

In addition to the new 911 Assist feature, SYNC is being updated this year to create, on demand, easy-to-understand reports that owners can use to monitor the health of their vehicles.

Because SYNC is a software solution, owners of 2008 models equipped with SYNC already on the road will be able to have their systems updated with the new functions, as well.

"From the start, we pursued an updatable software solution with SYNC, using the consumer electronics business as our model," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of Global Product Development. "The ability to add functionality and update the system to work with new devices is what makes SYNC unique in the industry right now. It is a strategy that will benefit our customers over time by ensuring their systems do not become outdated."

911 Assist
Research shows that safety continues to be a leading driver of purchase consideration, and Ford is already a safety leader. In fact, Ford Motor Company has earned more National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five star safety ratings and more Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Picks than any other manufacturer.

But, in the event of a serious accident with an air bag deployment, the ability to directly contact the local 911 emergency operator could be a critical need – for both vehicle occupants and the first responders. Beginning later this year, SYNC can help.

When a phone is properly paired, turned on and connected to SYNC – which is designed to happen every time the driver enters the vehicle with his or her cell phone – the system will be ready to assist in placing a call to a local 911 emergency operator should an air bag-deploying accident occur.

Before initiating the emergency 911 call, SYNC will provide a 10-second window to allow the driver or passenger to decide whether to cancel the call. If not manually cancelled within the 10-second window, SYNC will place the emergency call. A pre-recorded message will play when the call is answered, and occupants in the vehicle will then be able to communicate directly with the 911 operator.

"Being connected means being able to get the help you need, when you need it," Kuzak said. "With SYNC, and specifically with the 911 Assist feature, we will be providing our customers an extra layer of security and peace of mind."

The key advantage of SYNC 911 Assist is speed, as calls are placed directly to local 911 operators. A SYNC-assisted call should reach 911 operators faster than competitive systems, as there are no handoffs and no need to speak to a call-center operator. Further, there is no additional monthly fee for this feature, as SYNC utilizes a customer's existing mobile phone.

Once the call is connected, 911 operators can respond to the situation exactly as they would with any 911 call. Emergency services can even determine the medical priority and dispatch the appropriate assistance based on the situation. If necessary – if vehicle occupants are non-responsive, for example – the location of the vehicle can be determined through voice-signal triangulation or, on some phones, the GPS location feature.

The new SYNC 911 Assist feature is expected to be high on every "customer want" list. It will become available later this year, and earlier SYNC software and vehicles will be updatable to support this additional application.

Vehicle Health Reports
Properly maintaining vehicles can save time, money and improve customers' ownership experiences. Later this year, with SYNC's added functionality, staying up to speed with a vehicle's maintenance needs will be easier than ever.

Using the SYNC website (www.syncmyride.com), customers will be able to set up personal preferences for Vehicle Health Report (VHR). Once established, a report can be requested at any time, at no cost, using simple voice commands.

In creating a health report, SYNC will gather relevant information from the major vehicle control modules and send that information to Ford via an 800-number using the customer's paired and operable mobile phone. The whole process, which in some vehicles will include a routine check of more than two dozen systems, takes a matter of minutes.

Once sent, the information is automatically analyzed by Ford and a complete report is created. Notification is then sent via text message or e-mail, based on customer preference. Reports will be accessible through www.syncmyride.com and will use simple, customer-friendly language, suggest next steps and, when appropriate, allow customers to schedule service online. Reports can also be printed or emailed as necessary.

Owners that need reminding about vehicle maintenance will be able to have SYNC prompt them to run a report at mileage intervals consistent with Ford's maintenance schedule.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      not having to pay monthly for the same stuff that onstar has... works for me
      • 7 Years Ago
      i just wished they sold SYNC as an aftermarket product... there is no in car system that can do what sync does for the price. compare sync what any thing that BMW, merc Honda or Toyota... the best feature is that it does not control car functions like AC, ride height, etc... and plus it seems that it can come with or with out navigation... cause the lower center stack is no place to look while driving...
      • 7 Years Ago
      The fact that they will apparently freely update users is awesome and not to be taken for granted. I would only hope for users that the update is quick. For iDrive, the whole updating process is bungled. Even if there are feature updates, for iDrive you must pay for an update unless there is a service bulletin, and by paying you are paying for the time spent to update which may be about 125/hr (no joke), which may take at least half an hour of charged time, not to mention potentially one or two days of lost car time for an update to go through (sometimes it takes overnight to update and even then there may be issues and it may be redone). Thus, the time spent updating is another factor. If Microsoft gets this right, hopefully it shouldn't be the same ordeal, which I'm thinking because the SYNC software is probably only infotainment and the iDrive update may cover much more software in a car, that may be a big benefit for updates (e.g., some of the updates for iDrive have been noted to change responsiveness of the automatic transmission, which is part of the expansiveness of that system which may be a hindrance for updates).
      • 7 Years Ago
      sorry, onstar is not a "satellite service" is uses verizon phones built into every module to place calls to the onstar call center. the only times satellites would be used for onstar service is if verizon routes the call through satellite, and naturally, the gps data for the vehicle comes via satellite. other than that, onstar works in a similar fashion to SYNC, except with SYNC, the driver brings their own phone with their own phone number to the vehicle. with onstar, you get a new phone number because you have another phone.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Somehow the thought of relying on a Microsoft product to aid injured passengers is not the least bit comforting. Undoubtedly, Microsoft will be providing 911 operators with ambiguities such as "passenger with GPF", or "driver has blue screen of death". If Microsoft operating systems can't clearly communicate issues with the users (issues that shouldn't exist to begin with), how can they honestly be relied upon for life critical issues?

      The SYNC product and versatility is loooong overdue in vehicles. However, I'm hoping that other manufacturers wise up and go with a more stable and open source operating system such as Linux.

        • 7 Years Ago

        Apple does not make their own computer hardware. I don't know where your getting that from. They get their processers from intel, their VGA cards from NVidia, etc. Sure there might be some parts that are made specifically for them, but they are no different then the parts that go into PCs. Same parts, same failure rates. In the end, it's just a computer.

        Now OS's are a different story, but Microsoft bashing isn't getting anywhere.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Oh please. What would you rather have? An accident where you are too injured to move, or have been thrown from your vechicle, hoping that passers-by will see the accident and call 911? I'm not saying this is perfect, but it's better than nothing. This is a system that, while built on Windows code, is customized for this specific purpose. They did the same thing with Smartphones, and while you can argue which phone OS is better, the success of phones like the Blackjack show that they are good enough.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think his point is that Apple controls their machines' hardware configurations -- limiting them to just a few.

        PCs tend to be found with lots of wacky configurations, which convolutes the software test matrix.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I was thinking the exact same thing. One company I would trust my life to is Glock. Microsoft isn't on the list.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Unless of course your point was the OS, well, then i just missed it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The system appears to work and be easy enough to use that car salesmen are capable of explaining it to car buyers. Why does that bother you so much?
        • 7 Years Ago
        hahahha! Nice.

        I'm sorry your 911 call has encountered an error and needs to restart. Click (?) here to notify Microsoft.
        • 7 Years Ago
        the problem with windows is that it has to be made to work on thousands of different platforms, many of which dont use any of the same hardware...it's bound to fail on some. this is why apple has stuck to making their own hardware. that's what makes this microsoft product better than windows, because it runs on the same hardware in every vehicle and eliminates the issues that Windows has
      • 7 Years Ago
      that would be nice...
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you've ever called 911 from a cell phone, you know it's kind of a joke. You can be on hold for 5-10 minutes. It's not like calling 911 from your home.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's better than nothing, but hopefully users are reminded that it will only work if their cell phone isn't disabled in the crash.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Bet ITGuy works a mean rubrik's cube too! Pro MS or MAC is in the eye of the beholder. Functionality and utility are key. Scott makes a valid point. Unfortunately, tech support on the user end for those who work the applications day in, day out is nill; change management is not carefully implemented and frustration flares.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Found On Road Dead has a whole new meaning.
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