LAS VEGAS--Ford Motor is making its vehicles an Internet application platform by giving drivers access to streaming media and other smartphone applications.
During a keynote on Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally plans to show off the latest high-tech touches to the interior of Ford vehicles, including a redesigned driver interface that will let drivers access smartphone applications through the voice-command feature of the Sync in-car software. Cars equipped with the latest Ford interface, called MyFord Touch, will be available in certain models later this year, according to Ford.
The first three available applications are the Pandora streaming music service, Stitcher news and audio service, and Twitter, said Jim Buczkowski, director of global electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford.
So instead of fiddling with a BlackBerry or iPhone while driving, consumers can use voice commands to navigate through the applications, he said. The connection to the Internet is done using the smartphone's network connection, and the phone talks to the car's software via Bluetooth.
Ford created application programming interfaces (APIs) that will allow third-party developers to modify smartphone applications to work with Sync. More apps will be available over time, such as ways to coach consumers to drive more efficiently, but Ford plans to approve which applications will be available, Buczkowski said.
Lincoln models will have the latest Sync software standard with 2011 models starting with the Lincoln MKX. The Ford Edge crossover and the Ford Focus sedan will also have the latest Sync software, Buczkowski said, adding that the full list will be announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.
Mobile hot spots
Mulally is also scheduled to announce connectivity options built off Ford's Sync software, which uses Microsoft's embedded auto software.
People can use a USB modem to connect to cellular networks and create a mobile Wi-Fi network within the car. The car itself will have Wi-Fi capability and let a driver, when parked, access the Internet using a public Wi-Fi hot spot or home network, Buczkowski explained.
"The approach we are taking is to leverage (networking) devices that are already out in the market or will be in the future," he said.
Giving drivers the ability to connect to online applications creates more potential distractions. But Buczkowski argued that drivers are already using their smartphones in the cars, and voice control is safer because it allows drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.