Ford Enables Voice Control over Smartphone Apps in 2011 Cars

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-04-20

While Toyota, the world's largest auto manufacturer, keeps having to put out fires involving manufacturing issues, Ford-which recently replaced General Motors as the No. 1 seller of American cars-is plunging ahead by putting more and more IT features into its product line.

Ford revealed April 20 that its 2011 Fiesta model will become the first vehicle to enable BlackBerry and Android smartphone users to control Websites such as Twitter, Stitcher and online radio service Pandora with voice commands.

Future Fiesta owners can thank Microsoft for the new Sync AppLink on-board operating system Ford is using for this. Ford said it plans to install the AppLink software as standard on all Sync-equipped vehicles starting in 2011, and that will include the Taurus and Escape models.

Interoperability with iPhones and other smartphones is also in the works, a Ford spokesperson told eWEEK.

The overall idea is for smartphone users to be able to keep their eyes on the road and not need to physically search for buttons to push in order to use Web apps. The new Sync AppLink integrates applications using the vehicle's on-board voice and user interface controls-including buttons on the steering wheel-to increase eyes-on-the-road and hands-on-the-wheel time.

The new Fiestas will be available in summer 2010, the Ford spokesperson said, and the software release for Android-BlackBerry voice commands will be made available as an upgrade by the end of 2010.

Ford has been building an ecosystem of available Sync apps for about three years. They include several built-in services, such as Vehicle Health Report and 911 Assist, which are installed directly in the in-car operating system. Others, such as Traffic and Directions & Information, rely on cloud-based information.
"Sync is the only connectivity system available that can extend that functionality into the car," said Doug VanDagens, director of Ford's Connected Services Organization. "AppLink will allow drivers to control some of the most popular apps through Sync's voice commands and steering wheel buttons, helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."

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