First up was a walk through of what Ford is calling its App Ecosystem. The company is exposing software libraries that will, in theory, allow any Bluetooth device to communicate with the vehicle. That means Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Palm, and whatever else you want are in the game. Applications will be able to write to the Sync display, have the car read text to speech, receive voice commands, and receive some data from the car. Exactly what data remains to be seen, but full ODBII will not be available -- at least not initially. Dreams of a boost gauge widget on your Droid remain unfulfilled.
Existing apps can be easily added with Sync support, and on display was Pandora, Stitcher, and Open Beak (a Twitter client). Pandora quickly connected to the car, displaying the current artist and track and allowing the driver to select new stations simply by speaking. You can even give a thumbs up or a thumbs down just by moving a thumb to press the Sync button. While in action the phone's screen is disabled, preventing distractions, a definite theme of the Ford team.
The current apps on display were impressive, but of course they're just the tip of the iceberg. That any app can be easily updated to support Sync is great news, and that you won't need separate copies of those apps for Sync is even better -- eventually you'll get prompted to download a Pandora update and then, hey presto, infinite channels in your car.
That's cool and the potential is, of course, huge, but that wasn't the only impressive thing on display. MyFord's dashboard of the future dominated the other half of the room, with a mockup Edge cockpit showing off the trio of displays, the primary one being an eight-inch, 800 x 480 touchscreen through which nearly every control in the car can be tweaked, including climate control and navigation, and also some other funky stuff, like media playback and even a web browser.
Yes, a car with an integrated web browser. No, it won't let you use it while you're driving. Connectivity is provided by an external 3G or 4G modem, which must be plugged into one of two USB ports tucked beneath the arm rest. Once connected the car serves as a WiFi hotspot, so folks in the backseat can mack on your data plan while you schlep them around town. There's also an SD card reader in there and RCA inputs in to pump video to that eight-inch display -- again, only while it's stopped.
Control is either by touching that main screen or using four-way directional pads on the right and left spokes of the steering wheel, one for each of the two displays up inside the instrument cluster. As you cycle through the backgrounds of the screens change color, a very helpful cue telling you what you're looking at and something that we think, with practice, will mean you'll be able to tweak most settings without ever taking your eyes off the road. It's worth noting that there are few if any actual buttons in the car, most things handled through the MyDash system or via a set of touch-sensitive "buttons" scattered about. Fans of tactile feedback won't be happy here, but it's actually far more intuitive and easy to use with only a glance than we'd thought.
The apps coming to Sync open up a world of possibilities, and MyFord is looking fantastic. Even more intriguing is that this is just the beginning; the possibilities are endless. Apps that track car location and speed to predict congestion? Apps that tell if a driver makes a panic move and warns those behind? A messaging system that'll let you apologize to that guy in the blue Camry you just cut off? All this and more -- coming soon to a Ford near you.