Love it or hate it, Ford’s SYNC with MyFord Touch is the future of automotive infotainment. The problem is, that future has been clouded by discontent with the way the system works. Despite Ford’s assertations that customers love it, the system has garnered tons of negative press. How bad has it been? Bad enough that Consumer Reports downgraded any Ford vehicle that had the system. Yikes.
But Ford hasn’t been entirely deaf to the complaints, and released a software update in early March to combat the criticism and make the system easier to use. In the works for months, the update has been touted as a SYNC and MFT savior, but can it live up to the hype? To find out, Ford recently gave us a 2012 Edge SEL with the USB software update. The idea was simple: Drive the Edge for half the weekend with the old software, and then perform the update for comparison.
Our questions for the upgrade process were equally straightforward: Is the USB upgrade easy to follow, or would we be better off going to the dealer? Would the new voice command structure be easier to use, and return quicker results, or is the upgrade an overhyped patch for software that was too poorly designed in the first place?
What is SYNC with MyFord Touch?
SYNC and MyFord Touch are Ford’s approach to in-car media and application control. Each is a distinct entity, though they are becoming increasingly inseparable. SYNC by Microsoft is the voice-controlled effort to keep your eyes on the road, which allows you to press a steering wheel-mounted button to access your phone, audio, and climate controls; MyFord Touch is the quadrant-defined touch screen on the center dash that allows you to see information pertaining to your phone, climate settings, navigation route, and current audio selection.
On paper, the idea of SYNC and MyFord Touch are perhaps the greatest technological automotive advancements since the automatically-shifting transmission, a feature that could make life easier for millions of drivers. But in practice, SYNC with MFT missed the mark as much as a Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. It was plagued, from the beginning, by an unnatural and inarticulate voice-command structure, a confusing and inconsistently-performing button-less display, and a poorly-designed graphical interface.
But that’s just a bunch of picky, Ford-hating auto-journalistic rubbish, right? Ford claims that its customers overwhelmingly love and support SYNC with MFT. Rory Jurnecka, from of our sister magazine, Motor Trend, damned the pre-update MFT thusly: “How so many Ford owners enjoy this, I haven’t a clue. I suspect they love the idea of it without playing with it much before purchasing, then realize what a catastrophe it is.”
Hence, the update.
Before the Update
I’m no Luddite, but in my first go with SYNC and MFT a few months previously, I found myself the butt of an amateurish prank, and struggled to overcome the initial un-familiarization of the button-less display. I later wrote that the system wasn’t perfect, but that it showed promise. And that assessment held up with the pre-update Edge.
I found that my iPhone synced quickly, but that other problems arose with it. For one, none of the left-channel speakers worked while playing music from the phone, and secondly, the voice-recognition was appalling. No number of volume or enunciation adjustments would get the system to recognize the contact I wished to call. On one instance, it called my last-dialed contact and I embarrassingly apologized before hanging up. When I finally was able to audibly dial a phone number, it didn’t connect. And when the contact called back, I had to tap the “accept” button on the center dash touch screen four times before it connected.
But the problems didn’t end there. The menu structure for the navigation system was abysmal, interpreting my voice commands as a desire to be led to an ice cream shop, and not the elementary school I wanted. And while I could audibly change from FM to Sirius Satellite to digital media, the voice recognition software couldn’t land me on the station name or number I desired, and I spent more time watching the screen than the road. So, yeah, the allure of MyFord Touch 2.0 was both laughable and wanting.
The instructions were remarkably simple: “Vehicle must be turned on, running and in Park.” Pretty much the essence of plug and play, and you can even drive your vehicle during the process (so long as you don’t remove the USB device, or turn the vehicle off).
There are some, *ahem, functional differences to note, however, during the update process:
- You will not be able to use your media player, the SYNC/MyFord Touch system or phone (including 911 Assist) until the upgrade is complete.
- The rear view camera (if equipped) will not function during parts of the upgrade process.
- Audio will revert to a previous source during the upgrade. Please set the volume to a low but audible level before you start.
- The right cluster screen will not function normally.
- Climate controls will still be accessible by using the conventional buttons on the instrument panel.
Sure enough, my audio system reverted to AM radio, and I was glad I heeded the volume advice, as college basketball was the last thing I wanted to listen to. Later, I found that it was possible to change the volume and even media sources from the buttons on the steering wheel, if you had previously saved channel presets, though scrolling and tuning were still unavailable. Hmm, I thought they would have been deleted in the process?
For about 45 minutes, different screens appeared on the dash showing the progress of the update, and I followed along with the printed instructions. Things seemed to be going smoothly…right up until what I assume was the end of the process, when everything froze. Great, I thought. Wasn’t this magical USB stick supposed to fix everything?
The instructions say the update can take up to one hour, and by the 90-minute mark, when nothing had changed, I gave up. So, I called Ford’s support center for help. The technician was perfectly lovely, but hardly helpful. In fact, when she asked for the VIN number, she informed me that this vehicle was not eligible for customer update, and that it must be performed at the dealership. That’s when the situation got uncomfortable–I could sense the tech’s apprehension when she asked me, “Where did you get this vehicle?” and “Where did you get that update?”
I still don’t know what happened, and I can’t explain why it bricked. And it’s not like the instructions were hard to follow, and I’ve had Drill Sergeants instill in me the fear of god for following instructions to the smallest detail. But in this instance, it’s as simple as turning the car on, leaving the transmission in Park, and then plugging in the USB device. How do you mess that up?
Ford was flabbergasted.
“We spent a significant amount of time designing and testing the update process,” said Alan Hall, Ford’s Communications Manager for Technology, research, and Innovation, “including specifics of the packaging and wording of the instructions and troubleshooting tips so it is clear and helpful as possible for the customer. We also tested under the assumption that some customers wouldn’t read the instructions.
“We feel that the installation process is very robust and we’re confident that customers, including yourself, will feel comfortable conducting the procedure resulting in success. If they prefer not to do the installation themselves, or they encounter an issue such as you did, customers should visit their local dealer or call our In-Vehicle Technology Support Team.”
I didn’t want to go to the dealer. I hate dealers, and I hate how busy they are, and how polished and simultaneously dirty they are, and I hate interacting with sales people and service managers, and especially the wait. The point of the self update is to avoid the dealer and the associated agony that comes with missing a half-day of work. Which was, for me–more work!
Except that it wasn’t. Although my local dealer never called me when the update was complete, the entire ordeal was shockingly painless.
“Yeah man, I don’t know what happened, but you crashed the system,” the service agent told me, as he handed me the keys. “But everything is good to go now.”
And that was it.
The Update, part 2
According to the instructions, there are four system functionality changes:
- The Outside Air Temperature Display has been moved to the right cluster screen.
- AM/FM Browse is no longer available.
- The 3-D Carousel function for USB media has been deleted.
- Wallpaper is now utilized on the main Home Screen, eliminating the Shortcut Home Screen
None of these “changes” concerned me. I wanted to know if the software upgrade fulfilled the promise of making the 21st century, digital life easier behind the wheel. The short-answer is a mixed bag response, though this is less of an “answer” than it is a question of perspective. In my own personal vehicle, I don’t have smart-equipped media, and I can drive my entire 40-mile commute without looking through the accumulation of text messages. That level of constant connection just isn’t important to me, and the commitment to a continuation of potentially important software updates throughout the life of a vehicle turns me off. But if I owned the Ford Edge with SYNC and MyFord Touch, you can be sure I’d want the technology to work. And it did work: The MyFord Touch 2.0 update was a resounding success.
I first tried the Sirius Satellite Radio via voice command. When it worked, my first thought was that this was how it should have been from the beginning. Even later when it didn’t recognize my “station name” command, I could literally spell it out and it would work. It was the same for making a phone call, too. I was able to call my wife from the freeway, and we chatted for several minutes when I realized that SYNC with MFT was kind of cool, so I cut her off in order to continue playing with the voice commands.
Had the Ford Edge been my own vehicle, I might have noticed that MyFord Touch’s graphics were a tad sharper, and cleaner and easier to read. Or I might have cared that the digital buttons were only marginally better and sometimes still required several taps to finally nail. But we’re talking future minor tweaks now, not major renovation. Ultimately, grading the update falls into a gray area, like 89.4-percent. It’s not an “A,” but it’s better than a “B,” and you’re just hoping the teacher likes you enough to round up. Which means that, deep inside, you can live with knowing you didn’t completely earn the “A,” but seeing it on the report card made your summer that much better.