Ford unveils less-distracting Sync digital system

Ford's new Sync digital system.

Ford's new Sync digital system.

After being repeatedly punished in consumer surveys, Ford Motor unveiled the third generation of its Sync in-car connectivity system Thursday with a promise that it will be simpler, less distracting and have a more natural voice-command interface.

For Sync 3, as its being called, Ford promises large buttons with less distracting elements on the touch screen in its vehicles. There will be bright, contrasting backgrounds that are easy to read day or night, larger fonts and tile-like icons. Voice commands will now be more intuitive, allowing drivers to ask for information using the same terms as if talking to another person.

"It's doing everything better," says Sherif Marakby, global director of electrical and electronic systems engineering for Ford.

Ford's new Sync digital system.

Ford's new Sync digital system.

Sync 3 will supercede the current generation, called Sync with MyFord Touch, which has taken a drubbing in consumer quality surveys. The Ford brand ranked in the bottom third among automakers in J D Power and Associates' closely watched Initial Quality Study in 2013, largely due to Sync, but moved to above average in this year's survey. Owners complained that displays were a confusing mishmash of information and that voice commands weren't understood.

As before, Sync will still depend on connecting through the smartphone or other digital device that an owner brings into the car. Now, though, owners will see screens as simple as three zone choices — navigation, audio and phone. The number of choices on the screen has been dramatically reduced.

Likewise, drivers will now stand a decent chance of being understood by Sync's voice recognition system. Instead of having to say "one one four five Main Street," owners can say "eleven forty-five Main Street" the way they normally would. Having to state complete formal names is also out. No longer will a driver need to ask to be directed to P F Chang's Chinese Bistro." Simply asking for the closest "P F Chang's" will suffice.

Ford, however, is not ditching the extra knobs it started adding back a year ago to deal with complaints about Sync and MyFord Touch.

There will be "a lot of flexibility to the full experience (of) in-vehicle usage," says Parrish Hanna, global director for human-machine interface. And hopefully, for Ford, better ratings of its systems.

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