Dearborn’s Ford to Offer Over-the-air Updates in 2020, Introduces Sync 4

Dearborn’s Ford Motor Co. plans to begin equipping most redesigned vehicles in the U.S. with over-the-air update technology in 2020 so vehicles can upgrade in-car technology wirelessly, saving owners trips to dealerships.
map through Ford's Sync 4
Ford’s Sync 4 offers cloud-based connectivity and conversational voice recognition. // Image courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Dearborn’s Ford Motor Co. plans to begin equipping most redesigned vehicles in the U.S. with over-the-air update technology in 2020 so vehicles can upgrade in-car technology wirelessly, saving owners trips to dealerships.

The technology will be available for many car functions and all computer modules, including conventional gas-engine vehicles.

“Nobody wants to feel like they’re missing out on great features right after spending their hard-earned money on a new vehicle – that’s where our over-the-air updates can help,” says Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services. “We can now help improve your vehicle’s capability, quality, and overall driving experience while you’re sleeping.”

Ford expects to deliver its first updates about six months after launching the first vehicles with the capability in 2020. Other updates could add new features to vehicles such as when Ford added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility to Sync 3 through USB and Wi-Fi updates several years ago.

Some updates will be virtually invisible to customers, enabled by a platform that installs much of the new software in the background. The new platform keeps current software running until the new version is ready for activation. No other vehicles have this capability, and some popular smartphones can’t do it either.

“Computer updates that require reboots seem to come at the most inconvenient times, which is why we wanted to make our updates as invisible to customers as possible,” says Butler.

Customers can select a regular time they aren’t using the vehicle to schedule updates while their vehicles are off. Most other updates can be activated in less than two minutes. Updates that require the vehicle to be parked can be scheduled when convenient to the customers. Notifications detailing the updates will be sent to customers when they are available, and customers can opt in to have the updates applied automatically over Wi-Fi or cellular connections. In-vehicle alerts will tell customers about updates that were installed when they start the vehicle the next time.

In related news, Ford previewed the next generation of its Sync communications and entertainment system, which features cloud-based connectivity and conversational voice recognition.

Sync 4 delivers comprehensive search results and more functionality for customers, including cloud-based navigation, the ability to browse digital owner’s manuals, and wireless compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and AppLink apps from smartphones and mobile devices.

“Sync has always featured the best of Ford innovation to help our customers stay connected to and manage their busy lives as they move about the world,” says Hau Thai-Tang, chief product development and purchasing officer. “With this new fourth-generation technology, we’ve evolved Sync into an intelligent, voice-activated, in-vehicle digital assistant.”

The system will feature different looks and capabilities depending on the vehicle, screen size, and customers’ needs. On all-new available 12-inch screens, multi-tasking will be enabled by splitting the screen into windows.

With 15.5-inch screens, Sync 4 features the addition of Adaptive Dash Cards, which will feature recently used or popular app features along the bottom of the screen, allowing users to control apps while a main app is displayed.

“No matter what size screen Ford customers choose, they will be getting an experience tailor-made for their vehicle,” says Gary Jablonski, chief engineer for Sync technology. “Sync 4 puts these high-definition screens to work not only by offering even crisper displays, but also by making driving easier with new multi-tasking capabilities.”

Connectivity comes standard to Sync 4, and all Ford vehicles come with optional FordPass Connect with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot.

Navigation is fully connected to and informed by the internet with maps that are frequently refreshed. It will also have the ability to share parking space availability and prices.

Sync 4 also understands conversational requests such as “find me the best Thai restaurant.” It also enables spoken communication via SMS and email. It will retain on-board processing, so Sync 4still works in dead zones.

Machine learning also is available, allowing Sync 4 to learn your preferences and make suggestions at the right time based on previous usage.

For the first time, Ford is offering wireless implementation via smartphone of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Sync AppLink apps such as Waze or Ford+Alexa. Wireless charging will also be available, and users will be able to control car lighting, climate, and radio through smartphones.