Ford Sync Feature Spotlight: WiFi And Mobile Hotspot In The Car

The new MyFord Touch driver technology features a built-in WiFi receiver, built in browser, and support for USB broadband modems.

WiFi Receiver

The Wi-Fi receiver allows your vehicle, when parked, to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots within range, and to enable the built-in browser (accessed using the system’s 8″ touch screen).  This means each equipped vehicle is, at the least, a giant rolling netbook (again, that can only be used while parked).  This means even people without mobile broadband will have some form of ‘mobile’ access to the internet.  Imagine sitting outside a Starbucks drinking your coffee in the car while using the Wi-Fi instead (no people bothering you and you’d get to pick your own music).

In combination with the recently announced Ford Sync API the Wi-Fi will eventually be used for a number of different applications. For example, someone could write an application to allow the Sync system to synchronize contacts or media with a home network every time the car is pulled into the driveway. No doubt there will be a plethora of e-mail checking, Facebook updating, geo-tweeting, yada yada yada to keep people distracted connected.

USB Mobile Broadband Support

This is probably the most useful feature of the in vehicle connectivity (and maybe my favorite of the over all system).  Users can connect a USB broadband modem and create a real mobile broadband hotspot (a la Verizon and Sprint MiFi).  Just like the MiFi devices this feature bridges an obvious (and frustrating, for some of us,) gap between cellular broadband and wi-fi technology.

The two USB 2.0 ports included in the MyFord Touch Media Hub let owners leverage a variety of devices, including the mobile broadband modem. And through simple software updates, SYNC can be adapted to connect with the latest devices.

By leveraging the users devices Ford has been able to keep the Sync system relatively low cost and has been able to avoid additional monthly fees.  In supporting the connection of USB mobile broadband modems Ford has ensured that users can make the most of their existing subscription based devices (including sharing the connection like a mobile hotspot with other people in or near the vehicle).  In addition to managing the cost, users will usually be able to migrate to the latest wireless technology and as 4G networks are rolled out (and WiMax and LTE battle) not being locked into any particular technology will prove invaluable.

The system will default to requiring a password to connect and each time a device is connected to the system for the first time the driver will have to specifically approve the device in the system.  This may seem a bit cumbersome to some, but it’s a logical security measure to keep people off your limited mobile broadband bandwidth.

For web browser

Ford says they couldn’t find the right browser so they took the “best ideas from each” and created their own browser.  This is probably true to a large extent, but you have to imagine that if Microsoft wasn’t involved then some form of the Chrome or Firefox browsers would have been reasonable to modify for their purposes.  Hey, at least it’s not Internet Explorer.

For easy navigation, the MyFord Touch browser features an available on-screen touch-sensitive keyboard as well as support for external USB keyboards attached to one of SYNC’s two USB 2.0 ports. Tabbed page navigation and 3D carousel bookmark browsing lets users quickly access pages they’ve visited and stored. Fingertip “drag” movements pan and scroll on displayed pages in a manner similar to that of popular touch-screen mobile devices, and embedded support for multimedia plug-ins like Flash support rich content sites.

The inclusion of USB keyboard and Flash support makes this a truly feasible web browsing experience.

Conclusion

The combination of these features offers the user a well rounded mobile connectivity option.  Given the ‘always-on’ nature of today’s world this platform gives users the flexibility to utilize hotspots, create a mobile hotspot, and share existing connections, all by leveraging existing customer accounts.

Ford continues to lead the charge of cutting edge in-vehicle technology.  In particular the push to integrate existing technologies and leverage customer devices is giving Ford a tactical advantage both in time to market and in supporting future customers.

No doubt this is going to be extremely useful for many people.  The question is will it be useful enough for other companies to follow the lead.   In my opinion, these features are here to stay.

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