Infotainment systems have become an increasingly important aspect of new vehicles. Screens are getting bigger, features and technologies continue to improve, and automakers believe they are key in luring younger buyers to their brand. Their importance explains why Ford's (NYSE:F) much-maligned MyFord Touch system had to be scrapped. Here's what Ford plans to do with the third version of its infotainment system, and why it's a big deal for consumers, investors, and the automaker itself.
MyFord Touch, no more
In interest of full disclosure, my own vehicle is a Ford and my system has failed to connect to my phone via Bluetooth for months now. This is the only such problem to come up with my phone and Bluetooth, and I'm not alone. Heck, Consumer Reports in 2012 went as far to say "We wouldn't recommend dealing with the frustrations of MyFord Touch on a daily basis even to an adversary."
Consumers often complained that the MyFord Touch wasn't intuitive, had difficulties recognizing voice commands, and often froze. Others complained that the system's digital display replaced too many buttons and knobs, which were later added back in to help the feel of the system. The problems were numerous and voiced loud enough that Ford opted to extend its warranty by two years on its MyFord Touch infotainment system.
Keep in mind that the Consumer Reports comment was from a team that, at the time, had tested six vehicles with MyFord or MyLincoln Touch systems, driving over 20,000 miles with them -- the statement was harsh, but credible.
Fast-forward to today, and Ford is preparing its Sync 3 system for 2016 model-year vehicles. It will use BlackBerry's QNX in-car operating system rather than the Microsoft technology that Ford employed in previous versions of its infotainment system.
For those who believe this is not a big deal because you think people don't buy a vehicle based on its infotainment system, it actually is a big deal for Ford. Consider what its problem-riddled MyFord Touch infotainment system did to Ford's quality ratings, which certainly affect consumers' vehicle-buying decisions.
When MyFord Touch debuted in 2010, Ford was ranked No. 5 overall on J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study of auto brands, and was even the top-ranked mass-market brand. A year later, once consumers and critics had a full year with the Blue Oval's new infotainment system, Ford plunged to No. 23.
You didn't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Ford needed to overhaul its buggy system. Ford had gotten plenty of advice, too, receiving over 22,000 comments and suggestions from often-annoyed users, as well as from research clinics and market surveys.
While the 8-inch infotainment system remains the same size, the text and touch zones are now larger and the colors are brighter. Also, Ford brought more buttons and knobs back, the lack of which was an original complaint with the MyFord Touch system, and the voice controls are much more responsive and intuitive.
As for pricing, unless you're buying a Titanium-trim-level Ford vehicle, the Sync 3 system will run about $1,000 as an option. Ford's Sync 3 system will be available starting with models in the 2016 year and will be available on full Ford and Lincoln lineups by the end of 2016 calendar year.
Ford's transition to Sync 3 might seem like a minor event, but it's a bigger deal than most people might realize. It takes one of Ford's weaknesses and turns it into a potential strength, assuming the product delivers on the hype, and should help reverse the automaker's slide in quality reports. Also, an improved infotainment system will enable Ford to attract younger consumers who are more connected with their digital lives. Both attracting a younger audience and improving quality rankings should help Ford regain market share as it continues to refresh its entire vehicle lineup, which is a huge task facing the automaker through 2016.