New Ford Sync improves nav, adds visual apps

Ford showed off the production version of Ford Sync 3, a completely rebuilt system with faster interface response times, easily searchable navigation and visual interfaces for third-party apps.

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Ford introduces the newest generation of its Sync infotainment system this week, Sync 3, with navigation, digital audio, hands-free phone and app support. The new system comes in response to negative feedback about the previous MyFord Touch system.

When Ford launched the first generation of Sync in 2007, it was revolutionary, letting drivers use voice command to makes calls from a Bluetooth-paired phone by contact name and request music from a USB-connected drive by album, artist and track name. Those features have become common in cars today. The second generation of Sync, in conjunction with the MyFord Touch graphic interface, was not so successful, eliciting criticism for cluttered buttons and slow touch response times.

Ford gave CNET an early look at the newest generation of Sync 3 in production form.

The touchscreen response times proved greatly improved partially due to a hardware change from a resistive to a capacitive touchscreen. Behind the scenes, the system runs on a Texas Instruments OMAP 5 dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM.

The software interface has been completely rewritten. The home screen shows navigation on the left side of the screen, with audio and phone cards stacked on the right side. Touching any of these areas launches the associated function. A menu ribbon running along the bottom of the display also gives access to these functions, along with climate controls and apps. While this homescreen is well-designed, many of the subscreens drop the home button, requiring a few quick presses on back buttons to return.

Maps for the navigation system show a clean design, and are viewable in plan and perspective views. These maps show live traffic courtesy of satellite radio data. On the destination menu, Ford wraps manual address entry and points-of-interest search into one easy interface. Typing in a keyword search brings up associated businesses or places. Information cards for points of interest not only include the address and phone number, when available, but also offer a few descriptive paragraphs of text and hours of operation.

The system lacks a built-in online destination search, which is somewhat of a disappointment. However, Ford builds in its AppLink system, which could potentially add a Google, Bing or Yelp search in the future.

The previous generation of Sync supports more than 30 apps, although these are only usable through voice command. In Sync 3, Ford demonstrated three third-party apps with a visual interface at launch: Glympse, Pandora and Spotify. As in the previous generation of Sync, these apps have to be running on a phone linked to the system. iPhones must be cabled to the USB port while Android phones can be connected through Bluetooth.

iPhone users can also use Siri through either a button on the phone screen or a long press on the steering-wheel voice command button.

Ford spokesperson Alan Hall told CNET that Sync will support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto sometime in the future, but would not offer a specific timeline.

Sync 3 will initially come out in the 2016 Ford Escape, with an 8-inch screen, and on the 2016 Ford Fiesta with a 6.5-inch screen. Other models will follow as they are updated.

2016 Ford Escape
The new version of Ford Sync will initially roll out in the 2016 Escape. Wayne Cunningham/CNET