In-Car Voice Control of Mobile Apps from Ford

Ford has been hyping SYNC (developed with Microsoft) in TV spots for months. But now comes a new feature that ties the voice services of Sync to smartphone apps, called SYNC AppLink. It is currently compatible with BlackBerry and Android phones. It allows voice control of smartphone apps through the in-car system, after a software download.

The sure-to-be popular 2011 Fiesta is the first Ford car to enable this but it will be rolled out to other Ford vehciles and smartphone platforms, including presumably the iPhone in the next model year. According to the release:

The Android Market and BlackBerry App World are among the leading growth markets for mobile apps. The new SYNC AppLink will seamlessly integrate apps using the vehicle's voice and user interface controls, including buttons on the steering wheel, increasing eyes-on-the-road and hands-on-the-wheel time.

The first SYNC-enabled apps available later this year include Pandora internet radio, Stitcher "smart radio" and Orangatame's OpenBeak app for Twitter, with additional apps on the way. Updated versions of each app, incorporating the SYNC application programming interface (API), will be available through Android Market and BlackBerry App World for customers to download.

I haven't used SYNC but this is a pretty compelling extension of its capabilities. Here's a video demo of it working on the Fiesta with the Pandora and Stitcher apps:

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Part of the consumer proposition here is about safety: hands free operation of an access to the phone. Companies like Zoomsafer and Vlingo are also working that arena with voice search, although Zoomsafer has a more complete offering. But SYNC Applink is a more comprehensive capability that extends to entertainment. 

Ford is making a big bet that SYNC will be a differentiator for consumers and for some it certainly will. More broadly SYNC and Applink should help mainstream in-car voice services over the next two years.

I won't get into too much speculation about this but widespread adoption of this type of capability would create a potentially big new market for certain categories of apps and in particular Internet radio, which could become very disruptive.