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What the new Ford Focus teaches us about the future of connected driving


I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Mobile World Congress, the yearly showcase of the latest and greatest devices from manufacturers such as Samsung, Nokia and seemingly every Chinese manufacturer possible.

The major takeout of the event: innovation is dead. The latest Samsung S5, the successor to the equally brilliantly named S4 looks almost exactly the same as its predecessor except with a .1-inch larger screen. Weâ€ve reached something of a stalemate in the mobile arms race so rest assured that your mobile phone from last year is still going to give you geek cred.

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I could waffle on about the .1-inch screen difference for hours but this is after all, a car site so let me dive straight into that topic. Ford was the only car manufacturer to have an exhibit at MWC to showcase three technologies: Applink, Sync 2.0 and the new Focusâ€s safety tech.

Letâ€s start from the top: Ford has an interesting motto for driving safety technology: “Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road”. Itâ€s with this motto that its Sync system aims to be almost one hundred percent voice activated. If you buy a Ford today youâ€ll receive Sync 1.0, a fairly impressive system with decent voice dialing and other voice commands. I drove a Ford Kuga for a week before I went to the show and I found the voice dialing to be better the Appleâ€s Siri. Needless to say I was impressed.

Applink is a technology for Sync 1.0. Essentially the tech allows for apps to interface with the system and for developers to create voice commands. The easiest way to explain this is using Spotify as an example. Spotify on iOS and Android will be built with special Sync coding to allow you to control your music selection via voice commands. Obviously there is an SDK and theoretically any app could take advantage of this. According to Ford CTO Paul Mascerenas, there have been over ten million cars released with Sync so this functionality suddenly becomes a great differentiator.

Next up weâ€ve got Sync 2.0. The original Sync was released a few years ago and suddenly seems clunky in the world of touch screens and slick UIâ€s. Sync 2.0 is a welcome improvement removing a whole lot of the buttons and the D-Pad used to navigate version one. An 8-inch touch screen dominates the cabin and is divided into four major hubs; music, navigation, telephony and climate control. The aim here is, as always, to avoid the driver taking their eyes off the road so absolutely everything is voice activated. The navigation is particularly interesting with a focus on points of interest. Simply say “Iâ€m hungry” and the car will give you options of where the closest restaurant is. You can also say “AC on” to turn the aircon on amongst many other commands.

There are other cosmetic benefits of the Sync 2.0 system such as contact picture downloads and album art but more importantly the fact that new cars will come with two USB ports is a winner.

I could dedicate pages and pages to the new Sync features but Iâ€ll sum it up in one sentence: “Sync 2.0 is very, very good.”

Finally I want to talk about some of the tech inside the new Ford Focus. The new Focus is the first Ford to offer Perpendicular Parking, a new hands-free parking technology that helps drivers reverse into spaces alongside other cars. The current Focus introduced parallel parking aid Active Park Assist that, at the push of a button, uses ultrasonic sensors to locate parking spaces and steer the vehicle while the driver controls the accelerator and brake. The addition of two new sensors to the rear of the new Focus enables Perpendicular Parking to operate in the same way.

I really like what Ford is currently up to in terms of diffusing high-end tech to normal, accessible cars. The fact that a car company was showing off its wares at a mobile tech conference shows the company’s commitment to safety and connectivity, something we could all use more of.

Disclaimer: I was sent to Spain by Ford so I feel slightly warm and fuzzy towards the company. Iâ€ll keep this as factual as possible to avoid any bias but it did get me a cake for my birthday so itâ€s hard to not be completely in love with the company.

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