Those of our readers in the software business know all too well what happens when inexperienced designers create their first version of software for which they had no prior design experience: the dreaded “version 1.0″ syndrome. And that is exactly what happened at Ford, who had a group that excelled at engine control technology as well as an internal IT group, but did not have a architects and programmers with experience in graphical UI usability. The result of that was the first generation MyFord Touch, which showed the promise of the Ford vision but didn’t deliver that promise in day-to-day user experience.
Fortunately Ford believes in acknowledging their issues and in continuous improvement (except very clearly in the case of the MT82 transmission disaster) and this new version of MyFord Touch is the result. And good news: it will be provided to existing owners for free (hopefully the beginning of a tradition).
Faster, Simpler, Better: MyFord Touch Upgrade Provides New and Existing Customers Enhancements and New Features
- Ford will launch performance upgrades and new features for MyFord Touch beginning with 2013 models – no-charge upgrade will be available to existing owners
- Simpler graphics, faster touch-screen response and easier-to-use controls are among the many enhancements to the voice-activated in-car connectivity system
DEARBORN , Mich., Nov. 7, 2011 Ford customers said MyFord Touch could be faster and feature simpler graphics that are easier to use and that’s exactly what Ford plans to deliver with a broad set of performance upgrades to the system – launching first on the new 2013 Ford Escape, Flex and Taurus.
Available early next year – and offered at no charge to existing MyFord Touch owners – the software upgrade enhances the ownership experience as it was developed by listening and responding to customer feedback.
SYNC has clearly been a game-changing technology and now we’re changing the game again, showing how quickly we can deliver more of what customers really want,” said Graydon Reitz, director, Ford Global Electronics and Electrical Systems Engineering. “Our strategy to create the SYNC software platform and add the customizable screens of MyFord Touch gives us a level of flexibility and speed to respond to customer input like never before seen in the auto industry.”
The new touch-screen interface features simpler graphics and controls that are easier to use. Customers will also experience significantly faster touch-screen response times, one of the top requests from owners.
New features include support for tablet devices and Audible.com audiobooks, improved navigation maps and enhanced voice recognition interaction.
Since MyFord launched last fall, Ford has held four customer clinics in which hundreds of owners talked directly to Ford engineers about their experiences with the new technology. Owner feedback was clear and consistent, revealing that MyFord Touch was a key purchase reason.
A survey of 2011 Ford Edge owners shows that four of the top seven purchase reasons were elements of the MyFord Touch system: the touch screen, steering wheel controls, voice recognition and dashboard styling. While owners reported that they love the system, there were distinct areas where they wanted improvements. Earlier this year, Ford started delivering on their requests, beginning with more instructions and information on how to best utilize the capabilities of the system.
Ford launched two programs modeled after what consumers experience when purchasing a new electronic device. First, the company added a new MyFord Touch owner support website featuring how-to videos. Second, free “SYNC My Ride” personalized training sessions for new owners are now offered through Ford dealers – scheduled at customers’ convenience.
“The keys to continuous improvement are simple: Listen, learn and respond. That’s how we’re going to keep our customers happy,” said Gary Jablonski, manager, SYNC Platform Development. “Evolving the software with meaningful enhanced features was part of our plan from the very beginning. It’s no different than the experience with our smartphones and laptop computers – except now, it’s your car that gets better.”
“All of the new improvements will be offered to existing owners of MyFord Touch-equipped vehicles, including the 2011 and 2012 models of Ford Explorer and Edge and the 2012 Focus. Owners of 2011 and 2012 Lincoln MKX crossovers will also receive the upgrade for their MyLincoln Touch”.
“We’re seizing the opportunity to continuously improve the Ford ownership experience, and revolutionize what it means to own a car,” said Reitz. “Introducing new technology is only one step in our journey to become known as a technology company. Consistently improving it based on what our customers are telling us marks another milestone in that journey.”
Early next year, owners located in the U.S. will be mailed a USB flash drive with the software upgrade for installation that they can do at their own convenience. If they prefer, owners may also visit their local Ford or Lincoln dealer for the software installation. The upgrade mailing will include instructions informing owners how to simply plug the USB flash drive into the MyFord Touch Media Hub’s USB port in order for installation to automatically begin.
The visual enhancements to MyFord Touch are based on simplifying the graphics with larger, bolder fonts, removing low-priority visual content, and designing screens based on a consistent pattern. More than 1,000 screens in total have been updated with the improved look.
“Our goal when designing the upgrade was to simplify the screens and give customers a fast and easy way to get information at any given moment,” said Jennifer Brace, User Interface Design engineer for Ford. “That meant removing buttons, relocating high-use controls closer to the driver’s reach, simplifying tasks and improving font size.”
The new fonts are as much as 40 percent larger on some redesigned screens. The fonts also are wider and bolder to provide easier legibility, particularly among the rapidly increasing number of drivers age 60 and older. Ford also took the opportunity to update the performance of the system and add new features for customers to help them keep pace with the fast-moving consumer electronics market. Faster touch-screen response time, for example, was a key request from owners. Initial testing shows that touch and voice response is at least two times faster than the current system.
Also, the software upgrade includes the following enhancements:
- Improved voice recognition experience powered by Nuance
- Quicker voice recognition upon startup and faster command prompt when the voice button is pushed
- Voice commands used in conjunction with navigation are simplified through elimination of the need to provide street direction, e.g., “Main Street” instead of “North Main Street”
- Music requests are simpler by removing the need to include the additional song, album or artist information often found at the end of a name in parenthesis or brackets
- Customers can find their favorite sports team in action via new Sirius Game Finder simply by saying a command such as “Tune to Detroit Lions game”
- Tablet device compatibility
- Music and other media content from most popular tablet computers like the Apple iPad can now be accessed through a simple USB connection
- Audible.com audiobook support
- Listen to Audible.com content using voice commands or the easy-to-use touch-screen controls
- Connected navigation powered by TeleNav features new map data by NAVTEQ
- Updated map views are richer and feature more 3D landmarks
- Views of freeway junctions and signs are enhanced through photorealistic screen images
- Smart routing options are provided based on a database of historical traffic patterns
- Phone compatibility
- Automatic Bluetooth connection upon vehicle entry has been improved
- Noise and echo cancellation during phone calls has been improved to enhance call quality
- Gracenote® album cover art database
- Inclusion of the latest music metadata available enhancing the music playback experience
- Improved voice recognition for music search allowing drivers to pinpoint artists with hard-to-pronounce names or nicknames
There is a radical revolution taking place in the user interface to your car’s controls and entertainment system – thanks to Ford and Microsoft teaming to lead the way. The Ford SYNC system is far more than a simple voice interface to your bluetooth phone and nav system.
And it is something that neither GM nor Chrysler can even begin to compete with. They are generations behind; GM is currently running a campaign to position OnStar as a unique service, and it is, but talking with a concierge thru the OnStar interface is likely as distracting as using a cell phone while driving. And it’s certainly not going to be convenient or even possible to hold onto a concierge thru a 1/2 hour drive, much less several hours.
Kudos to Ford and Microsoft!
Microsoft press release follows:
REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 14, 2010 —Driving down the highway on a brisk fall afternoon, being guided by your onboard GPS and listening to your favorite band play on the stereo, you might take the simplicity of what you’re experiencing for granted. With new technology and close attention to detail, a simple drive has evolved into an overall integrated in-car experience — and a major part of making it happen is something automobile manufacturers call the Human Machine Interface, or HMI.
The MyFord Touch user interface from Ford is one example of an HMI that offers integration of various devices to make the in-car experience less complicated and more enjoyable. The HMI masks the complexity of syncing devices such as MP3 players and phones with your vehicle, and provides a simple approach to determining how and where information is displayed, powered by Windows Embedded Automotive.
“Initially the idea behind MyFord touch started when Ford began looking at how to integrate any type of MP3 player or phone seamlessly into a driving experience, while remaining safe,” says Gary Braddock, chief designer at Ford. “We began to look at this type of integration holistically — how drivers use their cars, what they’re looking to get out of the experience, and how we could most effectively provide everyday interactions with the radio, GPS and phone in a more accessible way and at the same time make them less of a distraction while driving.”
It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Even under ideal circumstances, creating an HMI is a massive undertaking, full of logistical complexities and thousands of tiny details to consider.
Ford has always been known as an automotive company, but MyFord Touch and its HMI would take it into the realm of consumer electronics. Engineers involved in dreaming up the concept and design process had to prove that a move in this direction was something that would be well received by consumers.
Braddock explains that there are two ends of the spectrum that new high-tech line of cars, including the Explorer, Edge and MKx, have to appeal to: those interested in driving a high-functioning vehicle and those who might not want all the range of functionality that the newly created system features. The solution according to Braddock is “to incorporate the high tech and efficient aspects of design, like the touch screen and voice control, into a familiar setting and have the driver have the ability to pick and choose which elements they’d like to use and those they’d like to turn off.”
For the MyFord Touch project, Ford engineers contacted an outside consulting firm to help them evaluate driver interactions within the car. They examined and tested every facet of how drivers use a car, focusing on what was most significant to the driver and what information and devices drivers tended to use the most often, such as the tachometer, radio, GPS and phone.
Then engineers looked at where certain information and devices could be integrated to make the overall driver console more efficient. Ford and Bsquare, an engineering services company that works with production-ready software products for the smart device market, used Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive software platform to combine the technologies of a dozen partners to develop the system that makes all those features function as a single integrated solution.
When you get into a Ford vehicle, you’ll immediately see the results of this Herculean labor. The touch-screen control center, located in the center of the dashboard, has a four-corner layout, with phone and audio capabilities on the left and navigation and climate control on the right. It uses a five-way mapping system, similar to most cell phones and MP3 players — up, down, left, right and a center OK button.
The screen displays any information that a driver might need, such as the speedometer, fuel economy and trip information, and it allows control over the systems through ergonomic steering wheel controls and Bluetooth® with voice control.
To find out more about Ford’s MyFord Touch and HMI systems, visit its website, which features its latest stories about its integration of high technology into its vehicles.