A big problem with drivers on the road in Australia, at least in my own anecdotal experience, is everyone sneakily looking down at their smartphones when they're driving and tapping away. They're usually changing tracks on Spotify, choosing new podcasts, or checking the quickest directions to their lunchtime date. If you buy a new Ford, though, some of your (iOS and Android) smartphone apps will work with steering wheel controls, and let you keep your eyes on the road.
Sync AppLink has just launched on the Ford Focus ST, Fiesta ST and the Kuga in Australia; it's rolling out throughout the rest of the year and into 2015 on the entire Focus, Fiesta, EcoSport, Transit and Ranger line-up. On your iPhone or Android phone — precisely which phones are supported, if there's any specifics, isn't yet clear — all you need to do is download the Ford Sync AppLink app, which everything runs through. When you want to use one of AppLink's compatible apps, you don't need to touch the phone at all, using the car's controls to take care of everything.
In Australia, Sync AppLink is launching with a few select local apps. Spotify and Pandora take care of music listening — you'll need a premium account for either, which you'd need anyway to use them on your mobile — and podcasts and news come courtesy of Omny, the home-grown aggregator that brings together a bunch of different services to deliver an endless stream of audio straight to your ears. The other standout is a state-specific app for NRMA, RACQ, RACV and so on, which provides access to a bunch of services (possibly including parking, fuel pricing, directions) and roadside assistance from whichever state motoring club you're a member of — and that's a service you get gratis for buying a Ford in the first place, which is a nice touch.
Being an evolution of Ford's Sync system, AppLink's APIs let supported apps hook into a car's steering wheel controls and multimedia interface displays, so you can navigate through a list of services or choose a Spotify song with the thumb-position D-pad. Sync is big on voice, and natural language processing for AppLink means you can issue commands — like "play station" and then the name of your favourite podcast in Omny, for example — through the cars' integrated microphone and steering wheel voice button.
What all this means is that when you're driving in a new Ford, and you want to pick a different album in Spotify, or change the flow of your Pandora streaming radio, you don't need to pull over and pick up your phone, or to take the frankly dangerous risk of tapping away at a smartphone while driving. It's a great feature, and one that Ford has over competitors. Pick up your game, guys — all new cars should be doing this. [Ford]