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Can a software upgrade save MyFord Touch?

Posted by Bill Griffith  November 17, 2011 05:10 PM

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Ford is introducing performance upgrades and new features for its MyFord Touch infotainment system, and, beginning early next year, will offer free software upgrades to existing customers. MyFord Touch is the touch-screen system that contains the vehicle’s telephone, navigation, entertainment, and climate controls.

That’s positive news. But can the upgrades truly simplify the system enough for the average user?

Ford’s Sync system was a sophisticated step forward in a world of ever-increasing automotive “connectivity.” The MyFord Touch added layers of menus, features, and options. The first time I tried MyFord Touch, I knew I was out of my element. It took too much thought — a driving distraction — and I still haven’t found the system to be intuitive despite several weeks of driving vehicles with either MyFord or MyLincoln Touch. (Our correspondent Craig Fitzgerald couldn't stand it.)

By and large, I get along fine in a technical world, but “voice recognition” has always been a problem. I ask for one thing but get another. A “Call home” command too often still begets the answer “Calling Harry” or something else unintended.

“The initial software wasn’t the best that it could be,” said Alan Hall, Ford’s technology spokesman. “The original part of the plan was to do updates and upgrades.”

During a visit to Consumer Reports’ automotive testing facility in Connecticut this fall, director David Champion said the magazine considers anything that takes two seconds or more to do at the wheel as a definite driving distraction. The magazine saw ratings plummet for the Explorer, Edge, and Lincoln MKX — the initial models available with the system — as did J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey, in which Ford dropped from five to 23.

Now, starting with the 2013 Escape, Flex, and Taurus, Ford says the system will be simpler, faster, and better. The company has a couple of YouTube video demonstrations that shows a simplified main screen with the primary choices.

Ford says the graphics are simpler, controls easier to use, voice recognition is enhanced, and touch-screens are faster. One integral part of the original system is that commands are redundant to the point that there are at least three ways to achieve the same command: touch-screen, steering-wheel buttons, or voice recognition.

Existing users will be mailed (yes, snail mail lives) a USB flash drive with the software upgrade. Plug it in to the system’s USB port and the installation begins automatically. Or they can have it done by their dealer. Hall said Ford is sponsoring dealers who set up training sessions for owners, which include weekend clinics and one-on-one appointments. Also next year will be the system’s first rollout for European and Asian markets.

“It’s really no different than buying an iPad and signing up for an Apple course over the weekend,” he said.

Decades of watching consumer electronics get simplified with each generation guarantees that the system will “get there.” It’ll be interesting to see if this is the step that does it.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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