Ford Sync + WP7 + Zune

First – I’m back! I’m at the end of the last week of school, all my assignments are done! Assuming I pass all my classes, I’m done with school and will graduate later this month!

Next – a couple of days ago I took delivery of a 2011 model-year Ford. It came with “Ford Sync” technology. I have seen the future and would like to describe it here…

Ford Sync:
What Ford Sync is, is basically a speech-to-text interface for your car. You hit a button and interact with your car vocally. For example:

ME: (hit button)

SYNC: “Phone menu – say command…”

ME: “Call Michelle”

SYNC: “Michelle, cell or work?”

ME: “Cell.”

SYNC: “Dialing…” 

And at that point, you can have a normal conversation and you hear the other person through the speakers of the truck. But it gets better. Let’s say you are driving and you hear the sound for a new text message on your phone. You can do this:

ME: (hit button)

SYNC: “Phone menu – say command…”

ME: “Text”

SYNC: “New text message from Michelle: running late, I’ll call you in a bit”

and I believe you can dictate outbound text messages too, but I haven’t figured that out yet. But wait, Sync is actually way more than that. You know how OnStar from GM offers services and turn-by-turn directions?? and how that service costs money? Well, Sync does that too, but it’s free – and the reason it’s free is because it uses YOUR phone for the communication. So, you can hit the button and say “Services” and get directions to a destination or find local businesses, all from an automated system – which you are interacting with, over your phone (sync places the call via Bluetooth).

Also, if you are in an accident and your airbags deploy, it automatically dials 911 on your phone for you!

But wait, Sync is actually more than that too. You can generate a vehicle health report, and access it via www.syncmyride.com – which lets you do lots of other things too. But probably one of the coolest things this does, is let you stream Bluetooth audio from an MP3 device…. like your Windows Phone 7. Hang on, let me paint the whole picture…

Zune:
First, I know, I know – “Zune? is that still around? I thought iPod won the MP3 player war?”. It did for the general public, but let me explain. I am extremely anti-iTunes. The reason is all the music you “buy” is in a DRM-protected, proprietary format – which is extremely not-cool. That basically means you are renting it – and you are doing it on iTunes’ terms. If I “buy” something, especially music, I want to own it outright – with iTunes, this isn’t the case.

Now with Zune – and specifically ZunePass, you have unlimited access to ALL songs in the Zune Marketplace (so long as your subscription is active). When you buy a song, it is non-DRM-protected, and in native MP3 format. For an audiophile like myself, this is the only reasonable alternative – for me. In other words, when you buy a song, it is in MP3 format, so that you can do what you want with it.

Lastly, as if that wasn’t enough, the ZunePass subscription is $14.95/month, which includes 10 free songs (which are typically $0.99) – which means the service actually costs around $5. It’s really quite perfect for me, and a far better alternative to iTunes/iPod. So although it definitely lost the popularity contest, it is a FAR better service offering, in my opinion.

But wait, isn’t the Zune hardware going away? Microsoft made an announcement about it! True – but enter Windows Phone 7 for the conclusion of this story…

WP7 Integration:
Ok, if you have a Windows Phone 7 and go into “Music + Videos”, you might recognize that this IS the Zune interface from the Zune hardware. In other words, your WP7 is, for all intents and purposes, a Zune. So, the reason Zune hardware (dedicated MP3 players) are going away, is because Microsoft is simply putting this MP3 functionality in WP7 instead of having separate devices. That’s a smart consolidation.

Now wait a second, if Zune hardware is going away, and if WP7 is supposed to be your new Zune replacement and play music – how does that mesh with the Ford Sync stuff?

ME: (hit button)

SYNC: “Phone menu, say a command…”

ME: “Bluetooth audio”

SYNC: “Bluetooth audio, say a command…”

ME: “Play all”

And low and behold, it starts streaming music from my phone via Bluetooth! I mean like CD-quality, stereo music – it sounds great! But wait, it gets better – I can hit the next and previous buttons on the steering wheel or on the radio – and control the volume – and that let’s me navigate through the songs in the playlist, which are actually being played from my phone!

Wow. I was so very impressed with this. This Ford Sync technology is really quite amazing. I am really amazed at how well it all works, and also how natural it feels to interact with you car in this way. I mean, it just kind of “makes sense” to hit a button and say “call so-and-so”. Very cool.

Another cool thing too is that Sync silently connects to your phone when you start the car, so the phone, services, bluetooth audio, etc – are all just “there” – you don’t have to do anything to the car or the device to get them to reconnect.

The Future:
So what is the future? Well for me, it’s very clear – I need to wait until WP7 technology matures a little bit and the hardware supports more space. My HTC HD7 has non-upgradeable 16GB of storage. My Zune has 80GB and I use about 75GB of it. So ideally in the next year or so, WP7 hardware will be able to support more space, I can then migrate my Zune to WP7 – and from a car perspective, I can then take my entire music collection simply by having my phone in the car. I don’t have to remember to take my Zune with me and plug it in.

At that point, there is no more need to have the Zune hardware, and whenever I am in the truck, I will have my entire music collection, all my playlists, etc. In the meantime, I have used the Zune software on my desktop to sync up a few playlists so that I do have some music from my phone available in the truck. It works beautifully!

Needless to say, I was extremely impressed by this technology – Ford and Microsoft really have this Sync thing really dialed it, it works really well and is very intuitive!

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Posted in Music, New Technology, Uncategorized
6 comments on “Ford Sync + WP7 + Zune
  1. Eric says:

    I have a 2011 Ford Fiesta with Ford Sync which is tied to my HTC Surround Windows Phone 7 phone. I absolutely love it! I let Zune pass sync up a bunch of songs (about an hour and a half) each day when I plug it in to recharge at my desk, turn around and set off on my drive. That covers my daily commute easily, and the next day since I’ve plugged in my phone again, a whole new list of songs swapped in! No more hearing the same songs everyday!

    Of coarse I’m also a bit bias as I have several apps I sell on WP7 now, but after having an iPhone, trying out a droid, I will say I’ve been happiest with WP7. 🙂 I HIGHLY recommend Ford Sync and a Windows Phone 7 (Obviously Ford Sync works with other phones, so if you have a droid or iphone it works just as well, but I still recommend end of contract consider a WP7)

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  2. Rob Seder says:

    Eric – I agree. I came from a Droid X before my WP7 – and although the droid is good, I really do like WP7. I too am dabbling in WP7 development myself, so maybe I am biased too!

    By the way, my current Zune is not quite working right (and it’s very old). I tried to hook it up to the USB port in the center console, but it keeps saying “USB disconnected”. I am getting a replacement Zune tomorrow and hopefully I can have all my songs available in the car, and charging the Zune at the same time, via the cable – plus I am supposed to be able to say “play playlist rock” or whatever, and it will do it. So, I’ll see how that works out tomorrow!

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  3. Mark says:

    I had a short test drive of a 2011 Fiesta today. I liked the car but didn’t play with Sync. Something I’d really like to be able to do is select Podcasts stored on my WP7 phone handsfree via Sync . Anyone know if you can do that?

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    • kris says:

      Indeed you can play podcasts through wp7/zune and sync. You can even stream them from websites as well if you’ve played through those synced via your PC. One caveat is that sometimes, the Zune software on wp7 will decide to start playing songs randomly from your collection after you have exited and reentered the car. Maybe this is specific to the HD7, but it seems more like a software bug. It normally pauses the podcast when you exit, and restarts where you left off when you reenter the car. I’ve tried to identify a pattern to the glitch, but sadly, I’ve been unable to. Also hoping its a known issue that will be fixed with Mango.

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  4. Christina says:

    I bought the LG Quantum C-900 from AT&T a couple months ago with the Windows 7 OS. I was really happy that my Ford SYNC system in my 2010 Fusion could notify me of the texts and read them off to me. Recently this feature has stopped working and do not know why…I had not even updated my phone manually for two months but when updating that did not fix the problem. I also updated my SYNC system and that did not help. I talked to the SYNC tech support over the phone and they suggested that I master reset my SYNC phone settings and then re-pair the phone to the system and see if that work…which it did not. So now I don’t know what is the problem. Shouldn’t all of the Microsoft softwares be compatible…why would you create an update and not make sure that other features were not affected. Gurr.

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  5. Rob Seder says:

    For what it’s worth, Sync started “not hearing” me for like a day. I too called tech support and they suggested a master reset, which didn’t work. I also looked on the web and people recommended pulling the Sync fuse, then plugging it back in. In the end, it started working again suddenly – but that was after a master reset, after turning the car off pulling the key out, opening the door, then starting the car again, then re-pairing the phone.

    It did that twice so far, and the technique above seemed to fix it. I haven’t had any issues since – knock on wood.

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