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January 10, 2007

Microsoft, Ford Announce 'Sync' In-Vehicle Communications System

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Associate Editor

Ford Motor Company this week announced a deal with software giant Microsoft (News - Alert) to launch a new in-vehicle communications and entertainment system based on Microsoft’s Sync technology.

Sync allows users to control mobile phones and digital media players while driving, using voice commands. This means, an Irish Times report noted Wednesday, that drivers will be able to perform such functions as shuffling downloaded music, searching for addresses, and listening to text messages read aloud.
“With Sync, you can travel with your Zune or iPod and access its features using the vehicle's controls, and the full capability of your Bluetooth cell phone will be just a voice command away,” Ford’s executive vice president, Mark Fields, said in a statement Monday.
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates (News - Alert) added that Sync is upgradeable, so the system can be updated as new phones and music players hit the market. The technology will be available later this year in Ford’s 2008 Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer, Sport Trac, Mercury Milan, Montego, Mountaineer, Lincoln MKX and MKX vehicle lines.
After the initial rollout, Ford plans to make Sync available in all its future Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.
Microsoft estimates the North Americans with vehicles spend, on average, an hour and a half each day in the car, representing nine percent of waking time, Irish Times said. Presumably that will make Sync an appealing way to make commuting and other on-the-road time a bit more pleasant or productive.
“What drivers want are simple solutions to stay connected while they're on the road,” the Irish Times report quoted Microsoft product manager Velle Kolde as saying.
In its announcement about Sync, Ford said that 80 percent of households in the U.S. now use cell phones, and the demand for solutions that allow those phones to be used anywhere, anytime, is growing. The company especially hopes that Sync will appeal to Generation Y consumers (people born between 1981 and 1995).
In a Monday report, Reuters said that offering the Sync in Ford vehicles is part of Microsoft’s strategy branching out from its core computer business.
“Microsoft certainly has its eyes on that market,” Reuters quoted Gartner (News - Alert) analyst David Smith as saying, in relation to in-vehicle computer system industry. “It’s going to be an area of growth.”
Reuters added that Ford, which like other U.S. car makers is struggling financially, also views Sync as a way to differentiate itself in a very competitive market.
Pricing for Sync has not yet been announced.
For more consumer electronics news, check out TMCnet’s full coverage of the International Consumer Electronics Show.
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Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.

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