2013 brings major enhancements to Ford’s SYNC in-car telematics product offered in the all-new 2013 Ford Focus. The all new Focus is intended to be a technological tour-de-force, offering capabilities that were only dreamed off a few short years ago.
Back in 2007, Automaker Ford partnered with software giant Microsoft to develop an integrated, in-vehicle communications and entertainment system. That venture launched the SYNC platform, which allowed users to make hands-free telephone calls and control music and other functions with voice commands. Over time, SYNC has evolved, adding new capabilities and functions aimed squarely at the automotive market, and as of the 2012 model year, SYNC was offered in North America for 14 Ford models and 5 Lincoln models.
For 2013, SYNC is available under several different packages, the SYNC with MyFord Touch becoming the premium version. However, the big news for SYNC in 2013 is the ability to integrate third party applications with SYNC AppLink, which brings voice control to mobile applications. Ford will also be adding more vehicles to the SYNC lineup, meaning that the enhanced functionality will be available across the complete consumer automotive lineup.
To boost compatibility and integration capabilities, Ford has quadrupled the number of engineers working on Sync and AppLink. What’s more, Ford has created an extensive third party developer network that boasts some 2,500 third-party developers working on AppLink apps.
The first Sync-enabled apps include the Pandora music service (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry), Stitcher podcast and news streamer (iPhone & Android), and the OpenBeak Twitter app (BlackBerry). However, apps such as those only scratch the surface of what AppLink is destined for.
For example, Ford Motor Co. has added IMS Health’s Allergy App to its Sync AppLink platform, which allows drivers to connect their mobile apps with their car computer system through Bluetooth or USB and operate the system using voice commands and steering wheel buttons.
Health care IT company IMS Health’s Allergy Alert app for Apple iOS allows users to gain information on conditions in the driver’s area that may lead to allergy symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion.
“Mobile health apps are changing the way consumers manage their own wellness, and Ford Sync provides the platform to extend this growing trend to the driving experience,” Doug VanDagens, global director of Ford Connected Services, said at Ford’s Go Further event in June 26 – 28th. “The Sync AppLink-enabled Allergy Alert app allows drivers to quickly check current and upcoming pollen and other health risk conditions with simple voice commands while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”
According to Pollen.com, some 20 percent of Americans are affected by seasonal allergies per year. Ford and IMS Health announced the new app’s availability on Aug. 2. Allergy Alert allows drivers to access a verbal pollen index with the verbal command “Allergy.” The app rates pollen level severity in the driver’s environment from 0 to 12. The “Pollen” command allows drivers to tell the app that pollen is around, and “Flu” asks the app to compile a flu index for the area. In addition, by saying the command “UV, drivers get information on UV ray risks coming up on their route.
With “ZIP 1,” “ZIP 2″ and “ZIP 3,” drivers can get allergy data for up to three ZIP codes. The free Allergy Alert app is part of Ford’s mobile health plan to connect patients to health applications using Sync. Ford first announced its plans to add connectivity to mobile health data in May 2011.
In addition to allergies, Ford is focused on helping drivers and passengers with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Ford developed a prototype system to connect Ford Sync to a Medtronic glucose-monitoring device using Bluetooth. At the January 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, Ford announced a “doctor in your car” prototype system along with health engagement company Healthrageous and software developers BlueMetal Architects that allows drivers to upload data to Microsoft HealthVault and store driver information on the Windows Azure cloud platform.
With Sync, Ford wants to move in-car connectivity systems beyond information and entertainment, according to Gary Strumolo, global manager of Ford Research and Innovation. Still, drivers shouldn’t expect the vehicle to overstep itself by storing personal health information, he noted.
“The car itself will not diagnose, it will not make predictions, it will simply report back what the readings are,” Strumolo said at a demonstration of the product at Ford’s Dearborn offices during the June Go Further event. Strumolo added “for privacy purposes, it will also not store data or send data in a way the owner does not agree to.”
By making mobile health apps available in the car, Ford avoids storing the data on its own systems, added K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader for innovation at Ford. “What we’re really trying to do is get data to the driver in an unobtrusive model that doesn’t require Ford to store data, but pipe data to the cloud,” Prasad said.
Ford Motor Company is looking to push AppLink towards the future and create an ecosystem of available applications. The company is putting their money where their mouth is and is collaborating with the 2012 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon being held in San Francisco on September 8th and 9th to offer the SYNC AppLink Developer Challenge.
At the Ford-hosted event, 10 aspiring app development teams will be presented with an opportunity to be connected to over a million vehicles now enabled with the SYNC AppLink technology. Receiving access to the AppLink application programming interface (API), the winning team will have their app part of Ford’s display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 2013.
This is Ford’s second time appealing to up-and-coming app developers. Last year, the event resulted in location-targeted deal app ROXIMITY winning the 2011 competition. Enabled with Ford SYNC AppLink equipped vehicles, the ROXIMITY app can relay nearby deals for products and services verbally.