In 2010, Ford reinvented its SYNC system with the launch of the refreshed Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. But the new integrated system – MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch or what's known as "SYNC generation 2" – has been plagued by more than a few bugs. And part of the problem is due to its design.
If one of its various functions trips up – navigation, phone or entertainment, among others – the system can restart. This can leave the driver faced with a blank display and a restart procedure that can take two to three minutes. Double bummer: It usually wipes out your paired phones and indexed music.
After talking with several colleagues who have experienced similar issues (including one where the volume was stuck on max while the A/C continued to blow cold air in 42-degree weather) and experiencing these issues first hand for ourselves, we called up Ford's Head of Technology Communications, Alan Hall, and got on the phone with one of the Blue Oval's engineers to see what's causing the issues and how the automaker is addressing them.
Continue reading Ford's second-gen SYNC system off to a buggy start...
*UPDATE: Official statement from Ford added after the jump.
"If the pulse of one of these applications goes haywire, in order maintain system stability, we reset that application by resetting the entire software to come back to a 'known good state,' similar to how you reset your phone or computer," said Mounir Hider, a Ford product development engineer.
The display and hardware in this new "Gen 2" system attempts to manage a variety of functions at once. And while Ford builds in redundancy to handle many of the core functions – climate and audio being two – navigation tends to find itself limited to a single point of failure.
"We don't use this reboot strategy loosely," said Hider. "There are certain events that will trigger these reboots. Mainly it's when things get out of sync with each other."
Hider did tell us one little known fact: The SYNC system actually restarts every 24 hours of usage. After a day's worth of use, the system will automatically reset on its own after the ignition is turned off. This is mostly invisible to the driver, assuming they don't go back into the car and turn on the ignition during the restart procedure.
Navigation Goes Blank
On two separate Autoblog test drives over the last few weeks – a 2011 Ford Edge and a 2011 Ford Explorer – we experienced both the usefulness of SYNC and also the frustrations with its lack of reliability.
I encountered some phone pairing problems – nothing major, really, and after restarting SYNC was able to "find" the phone – but the most frustrating was a hard reset that occurred when I had a route programmed into the navigation. I didn't have a phone paired with it at the time and didn't have the stereo or HVAC running. I was headed to a meeting in an unfamiliar part of San Francisco, so the nav was of particular importance. Somewhere on Masonic Avenue, I looked down and the screen went blank, starting up to tell me that it was "Performing System Scheduled Maintenance."
Fine time for them to schedule it, I thought.
As it turns out, the alert notice was incorrect. The reset I experienced wasn't scheduled – it was a bug that triggered the shutdown.
"That was required maintenance to ensure that the system continues to work flawlessly," said Hider. "There [are] many things that – once aligned – could cause that experience. From a software perspective, we need to ensure that if we are faced with an anomaly of some sort that we come out of it successfully. Hence our reboot or scheduled maintenance strategy. The alternative when you have issue is to declare it unusable and we don't want that strategy... the customer is dead in the water for minutes rather than having to go back to the dealer for them to reinitialize or reinstall software."
Corner Case Or Common Problem?
While Ford won't say how many of resets its cars have experienced – they only know when one occurs when vehicles are brought into the dealer and they aren't sharing that number – the buyer and dealer community is starting to rumble. Ford's responded with a series of SYNC software updates and a battery of troubleshooting videos that try to help customers with their issues.
More importantly, it appears dealers are sympathetic to SYNC's woes. I called three different Ford dealerships – one in San Francisco, one in St. Louis and one in Detroit – and all were able to walk me through a master reset procedure on the telephone in under six minutes. Not surprisingly, the dealerships were quick to point out that SYNC is co-developed with Microsoft. Ford of San Francisco admitted that they are getting a lot of complaints about the MyFord Touch system, but stated that it's likely a Microsoft issue and not something Ford can control.
When I heard the dealer tell me that, it brought to mind my Dad's first forays on the Internet. He was a late bloomer, getting his first email address in 2004 at the age of 70, and one of his first forwards he sent along was a send-up of "if Microsoft built cars" ( reprinted here in all its blue-sky background glory). It would seem bits and pieces of that old forward are proving to be sentient – if less dramatic.
Ford's method for refreshing SYNC leverages its SyncMyRide site, where users sign up and register their vehicle using a VIN and a new username and password. Updates to SYNC can usually be found on the site, with major releases necessitating a trip to the dealer for a full install.
One small but growing complaint from the Ford community is that the automaker isn't being transparent enough about the revisions in the SYNC updates. So, for example, if a new version of SYNC is posted and requires a dealer install, owners should be able to see what's being updated – a "change log" in software speak – in order to determine if they should take their time to head into the dealer or not (similar to app updates on smartphones). As it stands now, it's hard to tell what's different about SYNC 2.7 (the most up-to-date version of the SYNC software for MyFord and MyLincoln Touch users) as opposed to an earlier release. Ford could do its owners a solid by being more open about these changes.
Ford knows it has a hot product in its hands with SYNC (a recent poll suggested it was a major consideration for new car buyers) and for the most part, the automaker has managed to create a useful interface to control a range of formerly unwieldy functions in an ever-changing world of phone platforms and firmware nightmares. But Ford must do a better job of managing the reliability of the system – particularly as the 2012 Focus arrives – and figuring out faster ways to get updates into it vehicles while informing customers in the process.
How to Reset SYNC
Additional reporting by Damon Lavrinc.
*UPDATE – Official Ford response from spokesman Alan Hall:
Customers remain highly satisfied with SYNC and 80% say that they would recommend it to others, but we are committed to improving the ownership experience even further. Further to your post, we'd like to stress that the maintenance screen reboots that the Autoblog team experienced are very rare for our customers. We have already released new software updates into production and these have also been made available through dealers since Autoblog evaluated the vehicles mentioned in the post. The latest software level, launched in the new 2012 Focus with MyFord Touch, features an update that significantly minimizes the chance of maintenance reboots. That same improvement is being applied to the 2011 Ford Edge, Explorer, and Lincoln MKX models beginning with early April production, and will also be available for current owners from their local Ford and Lincoln dealer as a SYNC software update. We have already informed our owners, and dealers, of the available software updates, and will continue to do so as they become available. We have also recently launched several customer initiatives to help answer any questions that owners may have about SYNC and MyFord Touch:
· Owner Support Website - www.syncmyride.com/own/touch
· Text and video based tutorials from feature overview to a "how-to" guide
1 The ability to share information directly from site via email, mobile, print or Facebook
2 A "Click to Chat" option which provides one-on-one conversations with a Ford Technology expert
· Our In-Vehicle Technology Call Center provides one-on-one discussions with a Ford Technology expert. Monday through Friday, (8:30am – 5:00pm local time)
· Ford Owners - 1-800-392-3673 and select option 3