Ford Motor Company (F -0.52%) said on Thursday that its troublesome MyFord Touch system is headed for the junkyard.
Actually, what Ford said is that an all-new system called "SYNC 3" will begin rolling out on 2016-model Ford and Lincoln vehicles. The automaker is pitching SYNC 3 as a huge improvement over the much-maligned MyFord Touch.
That would be a very good thing, because MyFord Touch has cast a big cloud over Ford's huge advances in quality in recent years.
A system so troublesome that it clobbered Ford's quality ratings
MyFord Touch, and its sibling MyLincoln Touch, are touchscreen-activated "infotainment" systems that are optional on just about every Ford and Lincoln model. Similar to systems offered by other automakers, MyFord Touch allows extensive control of the car's audio system, its climate controls, navigation, its interface with your smartphone, and other digital settings.
It's a good idea, but the implementation has been roundly criticized. Ford's current system, which uses a special Microsoft (MSFT 1.97%) operating offering, has been a huge source of consumer complaints. Customers say it's slow, buggy, and hard to use -- and all of that makes it a big distraction for drivers.
Consumer Reports has been one of the loudest voices criticizing MyFord Touch. Ford's ranking in the magazine's quality ratings has plunged in the last few years, largely because of complaints about MyFord Touch. Consumer Reports has even wondered if the system's distraction potential makes it a safety hazard.
Ford has rolled out several updates to the MyFord Touch software, each of which was supposed to fix the system's problems once and for all. But the complaints (and dismal quality ratings) have persisted, much to the concern of Ford executives. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Ford was preparing to replace the system with one built on a completely different architecture.
Now it's official: That new system is on its way.
Out with MyFord Touch, in with SYNC 3
The new SYNC 3 system doesn't just dump the tarnished MyFord Touch name, it also dumps that Microsoft operating system in favor of a rival in-car operating system made by QNX. QNX, which is owned by BlackBerry (BB 4.36%), has developed an enviable reputation for crash-resistant automotive software. It is used by the likes of BMW, Porsche and Audi, Toyota, and Honda, among others. Now Ford will use it as well
Ford developed SYNC 3 with input from QNX and hardware maker Panasonic, CEO Mark Fields told reporters on Thursday. Ford promises the new system will deliver "faster performance, more conversational voice recognition, a more intuitive smartphone-like touch screen and easier-to-understand graphical interface to help Ford customers connect and control their smartphone on the road."
SYNC 3 will also bring a host of new features to Fords, including Apple's Siri Eyes Free system for iPhone users, and the capability to receive over-the-air updates if the vehicle is parked within range of a Wi-Fi network.
None of this is groundbreaking, but it should help Ford keep pace with the competition. More important, if SYNC 3 proves to be as robust and well designed as Ford is saying, it will eliminate a big source of headaches for the Blue Oval, while bringing SYNC back to its original mission: helping Ford win over tech-savvy customers.
The upshot: A much-needed move for Ford
Despite the fact that it has always sold well, MyFord Touch has been a source of headaches and complaints for Ford for over three years now. Ford engineers have made diligent efforts to improve the system and deliver upgrades to existing customers. Those have helped somewhat, but it has been clear for a while that Ford would eventually have to toss the system and start over.
That time is now here -- or it will be when SYNC 3-equipped Fords start arriving at dealers next year. If it works as well as advertised, the new system could give Ford a big boost in those all-important quality rankings. We'll be watching.