The Quiet Revolution Called Sync
By Igor Holas
After debuting it in January, Ford will finally start selling the hyped-up Sync system next month; and while you might have seen a several previews of the technology, none so far have delved into the true, full implication of this new system. The fact of the matter is that behind this innocent looking “infotainment” technology lays a platform that has the ability to make GPS navigation OnStar and satellite radio obsolete or at least overpriced and a dubious value.
One thing needs to be said before we go on, however; the paragraph above talked about “ability” of Sync for one simple reason – there are no Sync units out there yet, laboring reliably day-after-day so reliability and the quality of execution is not yet available for assessment. Therefore, this article will focus on the potential of the Sync platform – but should Ford back itself into a corner through some dumb shortcuts in execution, this potential will remain purely academic.
With that out of the way, we shall focus on the source of Sync’s strength – the two genius cornerstones of the platform – simplicity and universality.
The simplicity comes from the fact that there is very little that is actually done by Sync – in the lamest terms, the technology is just a “connections hub” – it recognizes what is connected to it, and enables you to control it. There, it’s done. However this straightforward platform will allow the System to pack on more and more “software modules” as it goes long, allowing more and more features from more and more devices without complex secondary features standing in the way.
Secondly, the Sync is actually universal – unlike many other technologies, the Sync extends as far as can be reached using standardized industry-wide connection technologies. The Sync connects you in three ways – Bluetooth, USB and the conventional 3.5mm stereo jack. All three of these connections are purposefully universal, providing virtually no hardware restrictions to what can be connected to the system. Moreover all three of these standards are maintained by industry committee, that will continue improving on the connection protocols, making the Sync grow with time; all with very little of Ford’s own money.
Combined, these two “cornerstones” create a platform that is virtually limitless in what can be connected to it, and how you use the device connected. Let me explain with an example. Right now cell phone providers and cell phones allow you to browse internet, receive and send emails, listen to live online radio or watch live online TV, get driving directions, edit documents and much, much more. The beauty of Sync that you get in-dash is that there are no barriers to transferring these features from your cell phone Sync; hence my point.
In the example above, I already mentioned several features right now offered through expensive hardware, or monthly subscription service. For example, right now you either buy satellite radio hardware through the dealer as an option, or buy it later as a stand-alone unit. Either way you have to pay for dedicated hardware, and then pay monthly for the service. With Sync, the hardware is included with all the other functions and the service is free through your cell phone plan. Likewise, listening to music stored on you personal player, or calling through voice commands, just got more accessible.
Moreover, Ford has plenty of other features in store for rollout in the near future. Besides adding “turn by turn” navigation through your cell phone, Sync will be able to receive real time traffic and weather information further aiding the navigation process. Finally, the system will add integration capability into the car’s diagnostic systems enabling such features as your cell phone making an automatic emergency call should your airbags deploy.
Simply put, the abilities of Sync go way beyond simple MP3-playing and hands-free calling. The feature-set available at launch and the features added shortly thereafter will make the system a formidable competitor to most proprietary hardware and software solutions – after all – the internet is the biggest source of free services, and Ford will bring the whole internet straight to your car. But do not worry; unlike your PC, Ford (well, Microsoft anyway) will not allow “third party” software on Sync – taking a page from MP3 player manufacturers and from Apple, all drivers will be written directly by Microsoft significantly decreasing the chances of instability of the system.
When comparing Sync to standalone devices, we need to mention that indeed the Sync will be limited somewhat. The Bluetooth and USB transfer speeds are not perfect, preventing snazzy graphics of the dedicated GPS units. Satellite radio is more than “mode of transmission” – to access it online a user will still have to pay. And finally, there are features of OnStar that Sync will not be able to incorporate. Examples include stolen vehicle tracking, remote unlock – they rely on the fact that OnStar turns your car itself is a cell phone, Sync will not do that.
However, regardless of the limitations, the Sync will have one core advantage over the standalone technology mentioned above – price. For the cost of an iPod or a smart phone ($400), the system will let you enjoy all the above features free without monthly fees and without the need to purchase further hardware. All these services will simply use the existing features built in your cell phone, and paid for already in your monthly bill. And while I am sure there are still people out there with no data plans (I am one of them), in the age of SmartPhones, iPhones, Mobile-TV, V-Cast, etc – the “basic cell phone plan” seems to be a dying breed.
It is rare for Ford to get something right; and with no Sync units out there, we should not be popping the champagne just yet. However, the basic idea of Sync positions it not only as a valid competitor to OnStar, Satellite Radio, and GPS Navigation – the platform clearly aims to replace these technologies as the better, more modern, and most importantly more affordable alternative.
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