Sync update adds new, yet little-known, Bluetooth profile to vehicles

Ford released an update for Sync that installs the Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP) on the infotainment platform. The update doesn't bring a lot of new features to Sync subscribers, but Ford is hoping the specification will become widely adopted by mobile device manufactures to facilitate more hands-free control of smartphones in the future.

A new update adds SMS text-to-speech capability in 2011 and 2012 vehicles equipped with Sync.
A new update adds SMS text-to-speech capability in 2011 and 2012 vehicles equipped with Sync. Ford

An update to Ford Sync retrofits the infotainment platform with the Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP), which enables some smartphones to stream and read text messages out loud to to the driver.

If you haven't heard of MAP, you're in good company. MAP is a Bluetooth protocol designed specifically for message streaming in automobiles, which is why most smartphones are not equipped with that profile. It's used to transmit SMS, MMS, and e-mails between devices, such as between mobile phones and the Sync system. The update doesn't bring a lot of new features to Sync subscribers, but Ford is hoping the specification will eventually become widely adopted by mobile device manufactures--a trend that in the future could facilitate more hands-free control of smartphones in the car.

Ford has already installed MAP in its second generation infotainment platforms , MyFord and MyLincoln Touch. By retrofitting some first-generation Sync systems with MAP, the car maker is giving handset manufacturers more incentive to get on board with the protocol. That way, when--and if--the wave of MAP-enabled phones hits the market, a larger number of Ford vehicles will be there to catch it.

But until then, good luck finding a phone on the market that supports MAP. So far, only a handful of BlackBerry, Motorola, and HTC devices are equipped with the profile. Even Microsoft, which is a strategic partner of Ford, neglected to add MAP to its Windows Phone 7, even though Windows Embedded Automobile 7--the platform on which Sync is based--includes it.

Yes, Sync already supports SMS text-to-speech on some older phones (think: flip phone), but the newly integrated profile could mean a greater range of messaging capability over Bluetooth, such as emails. BMW Office, an extension of ConnectedDrive, also uses the MAP profile to read emails and text messages on connected phones out loud . To date, BlackBerry is the only manufacturer that takes advantage of this capability. That said, Apple recently joined the Blutooth Special Interest Group board, so perhaps future iPhone versions will get that feature. Android phones are technically able to support MAP, but it's up to the handset manufacturer to determine the BT stack for each phone.

The update is available for 2011 and early release 2012 Ford and Lincoln vehicles equipped with Sync, and subscribers can visit SyncMyRide.com to find out if their vehicle qualifies. To take advantage of the new Bluetooth profile, Sync subscribers will also need a mobile phone that also supports MAP, which as of today are only the following smartphones:

Blackberry Style (9670) Blackberry Curve (9300) Motorola Atrix Motorola Droid Bionic Motorola Photon HTC EVO 3D HTC Sensation 4G

 

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