Ford Is Bringing Huge Screens—and Live Updates—to Its Cars

In the unending war for dominance in the auto industry, the fighting has long focused on questions of performance, reliability, comfort, style and safety. But in the past decade, a new front has opened up: infotainment.

The newest entrant is Ford. Today, the biggest touchscreen you can get in a Ford is the Explorer’s 10-incher. Most of its cars come with 8-inch offerings. Starting next year, Ford announced Wednesday, some (to be announced) vehicles will come with 12- and 15-inch touchscreens—the latter is larger than any iPad—stuck smack in the middle of the dashboard.

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The trend toward making car owners feel like they’re at a drive-in theatre has been going on for years, best exemplified by Tesla, whose Model 3 sedan comes with a 15-inch center screen that controls many functions that used to require buttons. In the smartphone era, people have been trained to expect screens that are not just big, but regularly updated and easy to use. (Bringing a bazooka to this knife fight is Chinese electric car startup Byton, whose M-Byte SUV will come with a four-foot screen.)

“We know the benchmark is cellphones,” says Gary Jablonski, the chief engineer who runs Ford’s infotainment efforts. That’s why, along with screens that stretch farther, Ford is also launching Sync 4. The latest generation of its infotainment system will offer the kinds of features you’ve come to expect from the computer in your pocket. The cloud-connected navigation system will liberate users from constrained libraries of points of interest, allowing them to search the map for things like their doctor’s office. Traffic data will be more detailed and up to date.

The bigger screens will allow Ford to show multiple applications (like navigation, phone, and radio) simultaneously, and to automatically configure their arrangement based on which the driver uses most frequently. As for the question of screens distracting drivers from the roads, Jablonski says a bigger display can actually help by saving drivers from fiddling with the thing if it’s showing the radio and they need to see directions.

The new screens will run Sync 4 and offer enough real estate to comfortably display multiple applications, configured to the user’s liking.
Courtesy of Ford
While the system’s female-sounding voice assistant doesn’t have a name, Ford will let drivers summon it with a phrase like “OK, Ford;” Jablonski says his team’s still workshopping options. You can still use the old-fashioned button to trigger the voice recognition system, but people have grown accustomed to verbally summoning their digital helpers. “We think that’ll be the expectation in the car as well,” Jablonski says. Ford will continue to support Android Auto and Apple Carplay (now via wireless connection), and models with Amazon’s Alexa will keep her around.

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