DETROIT--At CES 2010, Ford announced a whole new cabin tech interface for its cars, dubbed MyFord, MyMercury, and MyLincoln, depending on which model brand it is installed. At the 2010 Detroit auto show, we got a hands-on look at the MyLincoln interface in the updated 2011 Lincoln MKX, and a voice-on demonstration of Sync's new smartphone application integration.
In Ford models, MyFord is divided into two variants, MyFord and MyFord Touch, the latter featuring two 4.2-inch LCDs and one 8-inch touch-screen LCD. In Lincoln models, starting with the launch of the 2011 MKX, MyLincoln Touch is standard, with the two 4.2-inch LCDs flanking the speedometer and the 8-inch touch screen mounted in the center stack.
We started our demonstration by trying out the user configurable screens in the instrument cluster. Lincoln mounted five-way button clusters on each steering wheel spoke, which let you manipulate the look of the screens and make selections. These buttons are patterned after those found on cell phones and MP3 players, and we found them immediately intuitive to use.
On the left side screen, we went through menu options, changing the look of the engine speed gauge and opting for which kind of trip information we wanted to view. The system responded quickly, and seemed no more distracting than choosing trip information from current vehicles.
The right side showed all the vehicle infotainment functions usually only shown on center LCDs in cars. The positioning is closer to the driver's view out the windshield, so should be less of a distraction than looking down and to the center of the cabin.
Although we didn't have a phone or MP3 player hooked up to the system, so we couldn't test the interface out in-depth, we were pleased with how easy it was to move through each of the four main cabin tech areas using the steering wheel button cluster. Climate control is also available on this screen, letting the driver quickly make temperature adjustments while keeping hands on the wheel. For easier recognition, each function is color coded, with orange for phone, blue for climate, red for audio, and green for navigation.
Lincoln also drastically changes the navigation system from prior models, eliminating the hard drive, and the hard-drive-based maps, in favor of a TeleNav application stored on an SD card. That card can be plugged into an SD card slot on what Lincoln calls the Media Module, a new piece of hardware in the car that features the card slot, RCA jacks, composite video jack, and two USB ports. The USB ports can be used for MP3 players, USB thumb drives, and a wireless modem, which turned the car into a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Looking to the center touch screen, the demonstration became a little less engaging, mostly because the software is in what our Lincoln representative said was a pre-beta state. The company is putting out new revs of this software almost daily, in anticipation of the car's launch later this year.
On the center screen, we could access each of the major cabin tech areas: phone, audio, navigation, and climate, from touch areas at each of the screen's four corners. In addition, there is a Menu screen and a Home screen, accessible from the top and bottom of the touch screen. Our Lincoln representative pointed out that interface designers were still figuring out how to populate the Home and Menu screens.
Audio, climate, navigation, and phone area echoed what was shown on the smaller, instrument cluster screen, but added touch capabilities. Although we weren't able to test it, the audio screen will present a carousel display of albums or artists, letting you slide your finger across the display to see the different options. This treatment is much more graphical, and therefore more easily perceived, than a simple list.
Lincoln's main demonstration piece of this system that's currently active is a carousel display of different colors, controlling the color of the ambient lighting in the car. We're looking forward to trying this out in a production model, but in this car, the interface was a little sluggish. Hopefully the system will work better in production.
Beyond the touch screen and buttons, most of these functions can also be controlled with voice commands. Lincoln has been using Sync for a couple of years now, and it has proved a very capable means of queuing up music on the stereo and placing phone calls with spoken commands, letting the driver keep her eyes on the road.
We got to test out the next generation of Sync, which integrates with apps on a smartphone. This system will be present in the Lincoln MKX, but we tested it in a Ford Fusion, which didn't offer the display capabilities of the MyLincoln-equipped vehicle. Ford currently has three apps integrated with Sync: Pandora, Stitcher, and the Twitter app OpenBeak. These apps, when resident on a Bluetooth-paired phone, can be controlled through Sync's voice command.
This part of our demonstration was very impressive. With Pandora, we could tell Sync to play any of our Pandora channels, no matter what we had named them, and it would cause the app on the phone to switch to that channel. Further, we could tell it to give the current song a thumbs up or thumbs down, and it translated that those commands to the app on the phone.
With the Twitter app, the system reads out the text of each tweet, and shows who posted the tweet on the car's display. Sync offers no means of posting your own tweets. Stitcher lets you select a group of podcasts and online audio newscasts, and Sync will play them on command.
In this demonstration version, still in beta, each application had to be launched on the phone before it could be used with Sync. But Ford will add the capability to launch each app through the voice command interface, letting you say, for example, open Pandora.