I am decidedly not a big fan of automated voice-based customer support systems, so I will admit to being a mite skeptical about Ford’s focus on voice recognition as its primary user interface. But I understand that the company – like all other automakers – is between a rock and a hard place. Whatever features take a driver’s eyes off the road or hands off the wheel are potentially hazardous – and features, increasingly, sell cars.
Take iTunes Tagging, for example. When Ford launched its MY2011 Edge last week it introduced, among many other innovations, “the world’s first automotive implementation of iTunes Tagging in a factory-installed HD Radio receiver.” It’s part of the Sony Audio System that can be ordered with MyFord Touch, which is powered by SYNC. When you hear a song you like on an HD station you can push a button on the receiver and capture the song information for later sampling and purchase from the iTunes store. Sounds like fun, and it’s only one button.
On the other hand, some might consider even one extra button feature excessive, so Ford also introduced a “Do Not Disturb” button that blocks incoming phone calls and text messages while the car is moving. Ford said it was implementing some proactive feature content lock-outs to encourage the use of voice control, and it has integrated the Bluetooth Message Access Profile into SYNC, so drivers can have text messages read aloud to them versus having to read text.
Jim Buczkowski, director of Ford electronics and electrical systems engineering, says “Ford is committed to making voice recognition the primary user interface inside of the car because it allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.”
That being said, it’s good to hear that Ford and its voice recognition partner, Nuance, developed a new SYNC system that can understand many more voice commands than SYNC previously could. Ford cited as one example a single-shot navigation entry, such as “One American Road, Dearborn” (Ford Motor Credit’s address), instead of separate entries for city, street, and building number. It’s a step closer to natural language entry. Will it help?