CES 2007: Microsoft and Ford promise to sync your life

Posted by Barry Gerber

Las Vegas (NV) - Microsoft showed off a system, named "Sync", for synchronizing data you want to take on the road. It also do other tasks that make driving easier and safer. Ford Motor Company is making Sync real in twelve of its products this year.

Ford Motor Company has been accused by some analysts of failing to incorporate changing tastes and needs into its automotive designs. This alleged failure has been blamed for the company's declining sales. Well, if Ford's latest announcement with Microsoft of a new product, Sync, is any indication, the company has gotten at least one thing straight, advanced consumer electronics need to find their way into all those traveling hunks of plastic and metal we drive.

The Sync badge sits squarely on the front console of a Lincoln (Ford) SUV.

Microsoft set up a small tent outside the Las Vegas Convention Center dedicated to products supported by its Auto platform. The tent included products related to the platform from the company's data synchronizing application, Sync, to impressive GPS-based navigation systems and hard disk drive based music players.

Focusing on Sync, Microsoft says:

"Based on the Microsoft Auto platform, Sync is an updatable, smart and safe solution for connecting your car with your life. It offers rich communications features, including hands-free dialing, synchronization to your address book, and even reading your text messages to you. It also has exciting personal entertainment features, including support for popular portable media devices like the new Microsoft Zune. The system is built on industry standards, so it supports a broad variety of devices, and it's easy for new devices to integrate with our platform. Sync will be available in twelve Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products beginning this calendar year."

Zune, phone and radio screen where some Sync action takes place.

We had a chance to sit in a comfy Ford SUV and play a bit with Sync. That's where the pictures came from. All worked as advertised. We look forward to testing Sync and other aspects of the Auto platform soon. It is unlikely Microsoft and Ford will send us a test product, but Microsoft has said it will make one of the vehicles available at its test site in Redmond, Washington. We're packed and ready to go.

Many Sync functions are controlled by buttons on the steering wheel.

Some of Sync's features include:

  1. Voice-activated, hands-free calling
  2. Phone button on steering wheel connects and disconnects cell phone from in-vehicle hands-free microphone and speaker during a call without dropping the connection
  3. Converts text messages from your phone to audio and reads them out loud
  4. The Sync phone includes the same calling features as other mobile phones: caller ID, call waiting, conference calling, a caller log, a list of contacts, a signal strength icon, and a phone battery charge icon - all located on the radio's display screen
  5. Lets you browse the music collection on your digital media player, mobile phone or USB drive by genre, album, artist and song title using simple voice commands, such as "Play genre Rock," "Play [artist] " or "Play Track [song title]>"
  6. Advanced, instant voice recognition technology for English, French and Spanish
  7. Ring tone support
  8. Automatic, wireless transfer of all the names and numbers in a mobile phonebook to the Sync system

The radio is playing Sting's "A Thousand Years".