The Truth About Cars » Electronics The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Electronics Denso, Sharp Ink Deal On Integrating Home And Car Electronics Thu, 19 Sep 2013 16:01:30 +0000 densosharp

Denso, the automotive electronics supplier with close ties to Toyota, has signed an agreement to buy $25.4 million worth of stock in the Sharp consumer electronics company. According to Automotive News, Denso says that the goal is to create new technologies that “improve the comfort, safety and convenience of vehicles by integrating vehicle technologies with home electronic technologies.”

Gartner Inc. analyst Thilo Koslowski described potential benefits of integrating home and car electronics, suggesting things like infotainment that follows you from home to car and vice versa. Automated home functions could be made more intelligent, knowing when you have left or are about to arrive. “There are multiple ways of doing this, including things turning off when you leave because the car will communicate that it’s leaving your house. There are definitely some scenarios that have to do with smart home automation where you can automate certain functions.”

“This is an attempt by Denso to be prepared for what the future will bring. Companies need to figure out what that means once we have connectivity established in the automotive industry within cars. What is the next frontier?,” Koslowski said. “That is going to be other environments outside the automobile, other industries outside of automotive that actually will have to come together. I think that’s where Denso is taking innovative lead by saying we want to be part of this, at least in small steps.”

Denso supplies advanced technology, systems and components for thermal, powertrain control, electronics and safety. According to the Automotive News, Denso is the second biggest supplier in the industry. Toyota Motor Corp. owns 23 percent of Denso. Sharp builds home electronics such as televisions along with appliances and presentation and display products, like the touch panels for Apple’s iPhones. The stock purchase represents a little more than a half percent stake in Sharp, which has a current market capitalization of more than $4.5 billion.

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Ford Revamping MyFord Touch, Adding Buttons Mon, 17 Jun 2013 16:16:29 +0000 Limited_Touch_Close-550x361

Big news out of Dearborn; the Blue Oval will be adding buttons to its MyFord Touch infotainment system, but they won’t be getting rid of the maligned touchscreen system entirely.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford will be adding more buttons and knobs as vehicles get refreshed or redesigned, and move away from the near-exclusively touchscreen based interface. While Ford claims that consumers are overwhelmingly happy with the system, the automotive press has been resoundingly negative.

While MFT has improved in the years since it was introduced, it’s far from perfect. Ford has also been forced to add a full suite of tactile controls on versions of the F-Series pickup, as customers wearing work gloves were unable to use the touchscreen controls.

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Ford B-Max To Debut At Consumer Electronics Show Wed, 15 Feb 2012 13:48:38 +0000

Ford is showing its fealty to the machines putting its money where its mouth is regarding telematics systems by unveiling their new B-MAX MPV at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, a week before the Geneva Auto Show begins.

The B-MAX is also expected to show off some of Ford’s newest in-car mobile technologies (which have not yet been announced to the press). Bill Ford, the company’s chairman, will deliver a keynote address on the future of mobility as well as the role that mobile technology will play in the automobile’s future. The move is not without precedent for Ford, as the company unveiled their Focus EV at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which overlapped with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Ford’s new habit of unveiling cars at electronics shows is something to look out for – don’t be surprised if other OEMs start copying the Blue Oval as they look for greater exposure for their new product. The car is not necessarily the star of an automaker’s lineup, and if major tech companies like Microsoft are on board, then launching a new car at a geek show, rather than an auto show, might be the way of the future for OEMs with major tech tie-ups – especially when their partner is launching a brand new mobile platform.

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Generation Why: The CD Player Is Dead, Long Live Smartphones Mon, 16 Jan 2012 16:39:27 +0000

Are in-car CD players the mark of a vehicle aimed at geezers? According to an Automotive News report, the CD may be going the way of the cassette or 8-track player in certain cars – namely those aimed at younger, “Gen Y” buyers, who use smart phones as music devices.

An Automotive News article on the topic seems to suggest that “Sonic and Spark customers” [read: the coveted "Gen Y" types that Chevy is desperately hoping to attract] apparently don’t have much love for physical media any more.

“We asked potential Sonic and Spark customers what they were looking for in infotainment,” said Sara LeBlanc, MyLink’s global infotainment program manager. “They were very worried about cost. They said to us: ‘Get rid of the CD player. We don’t use it.’”

It’s true that Gen Y is concerned about vehicle costs, and that smart phones and MP3 players are the dominant forms of music players, but I don’t think anyone, regardless of age, has ever thought about how much the cost of a CD player has added to the price of the car. True, I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD, but unlike in-car iPod systems, CDs tend to work every single time, unless the disc is heavily damaged.

These days, the number one question I get about a press car is usually “how do I plug in my iPod.” Horsepower, airbag count, sticker price, where it’s made, those are all secondary considerations for passengers. Anyone who has driven a new car in the past 18 months knows that these systems are imperfect at best.The Ford SYNC system is at the top of my shit list for failing to work as advertised in nearly every single press car. Just as consumers expect total reliability from their cars mechanical components, they expect the same from things like infotainment systems – a flaky iPod interface is a surefire way to piss off your customers, have them raise hell on social media platforms and lose spots in the all-important J.D. Power Initial Quality studies.

GM’s elimination of the CD player may have more to do with getting rid of “…optical drives — that is, CD or DVD players — because they are expensive and appeal mainly to older motorists.” Sales of CD-free infotainment units are expected to jump 36-fold over the next 6 years, but CD players will also likely stick around for a while due to Boomers and “older” generations favoring them. GM can also eliminate having to offer pricey options such as navigation systems, by shifting that responsibility to the user’s smartphone.

Chevrolet seems to have found a novel feature to keep costs down, by having the phone do most of the heavy lifting. But what if you’re among the 47 percent of Americans aged 18-24 without a smartphone? Are you completely shit out of luck for any hope of having a sound system, navigation or other similar features?

The increased proliferation of these sorts of systems  also raises big questions about the robustness of the current crop of cars. Will the infotainment systems still be supported by the various suppliers and vendors, or will they essentially “brick” the cars, or crippled a large part of their functionality? Not that the OEMs should care; after all, the warranty period will be up, and all that matters is getting buyers into cars right now and keeping them coming back when it’s time for another new car every few years. Given that the automakers business model is based on selling new vehicles, it’s not really a concern of theirs whether or not the system craps out and renders the car useless. Just buy a new Spark for $0 down, $199 a month for 60 months! The prospect of a whole field of useless cars, sitting dormant amid a tight supply of decent used cars seems like a far fetched prospect until you think about all the obsolete electronics cluttering the various nooks in your house. Tossing a Minidisc player in the trash is no big deal; an automobile isn’t quite the same thing.

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The Truth About MyFord Touch Fri, 06 May 2011 15:24:34 +0000
Editor’s Note: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Byron Hurd of SpeedSportLife, in his TTAC debut.

There has been an almost-palpable sensation of glee propagating through the various import-leaning car communities I frequent. For nearly two years, they’ve had to sit back and listen to the other guys relentlessly gushing about domestic brand turnarounds. With only a few notable speed bumps, it has been a pretty good run so far for post-bailout Detroit. Market share is up; buyers are coming back; product is improving–a sad state of affairs for the import fanboy. Then, out of nowhere, those cunning deviants over at Motor Trend—known of course for setting the magazine landscape ablaze with their out-of-left-field criticisms and take-no-prisoners, “gotcha”-style journalism—dropped a Molotov cocktail into this Texas-desert-dry landscape of domestic love.

The 2011 Explorer, they said, quite simply sucks.
“Now hold on,” you might protest, “they didn’t say that.” And maybe they didn’t in so many words, but as Jonny’s follow-up makes clear, it’s pretty much how they felt about the example they tested. And really, does it matter what anybody said? The finishing order of a comparison test is much like that of a race (or if you’re an Orioles fan like me, the AL East standings). First place is the winner, second place is the first loser, and last place is reserved for cars purchased only by the uneducated, unworthy co-workers whom you spend so much time slandering in the company of your Audi-driving Internet friends. I can only speculate as to the exact details (I don’t drive an Audi) but I’d assume the conversations largely revolve around themes such as poverty, racial discrimination, and—like any discussion about anything on the Internet, ever—pornography.

But I digress. While much to-do was made about their Explorer’s pre-production status, there was another recurring theme that I’d rather talk about, one that has been in the news a bit lately in flammable proximity to phrases like “technical service bulletin” and “frustrated owners.” I’m referring of course to MyFord Touch, Ford’s latest and flashiest SYNC-cessory.

Yes, accessory. For all the press Ford has been getting, positive or negative, there’s a serious absence of understanding as to what MyFord Touch actually is, and for that matter, what it does. MyFord Touch is essentially an extension of MyFord, the interior settings customization option that Ford has been offering for several model years in some variation or another. MyFord lets you select ambient lighting colors and brightness, display functions and colors, and other nifty settings that have little or nothing to do with anything related to the functionality of the car.

MyFord Touch extends that customization to the gauge cluster and infotainment system and offers you a pretty LCD touch-screen (hence the “Touch”) interface from which to control, well, almost everything. But wait, there’s more. Depending on the car and the trim, the Touch option also replaces many center stack controls with either raised, touch-sensitive faux-buttons or a glossy, piano-black touch panel on which more frequently-needed controls such as audio adjustments, HVAC settings and their various on/off switches are duplicated.

Remember too that all of these functions can be controlled by voice through the SYNC interface—triple redundancy. And that sums it up pretty well. By the time you’ve optioned your Ford up to the point where Touch even enters into the equation, you have probably already purchased at least two alternative control interfaces. That’s because MyFord Touch is not SYNC. It’s just a pretty interface that adds another layer of visual panache and techno-gee-whizardry to an already robust infotainment package. You don’t need MyFord Touch if you don’t want MyFord Touch.

And why would you? Well, for one thing, it’s cool. It’s the automotive entertainment equivalent of the iPad—pointless, redundant and expensive. You may know this concept by its more common colloquialism: luxury. That’s what MyFord Touch is, a luxury. It’s a premium option designed for buyers who need to be seen with an expensive gadget, and like any expensive gadget, it will have its share of growing pains. Just learning how to touch the screen properly takes practice (The trick? Just fat-finger it. Hovering delicately over the option you want, waiting for the road surface and suspension to fall into perfect harmony before jabbing daintily at the ¼”-thick bar representing your favorite Lady Gaga single is an exercise in anal-retentive futility. Aim in the general direction of what you want and mash that sucker with ham-fisted authority. You’re welcome.)

That’s not to say that MyFord Touch itself is faultless. Learning the proper technique for prodding at the interface is just the start. Even with several weeks’ worth Touch-equipped press cars under my belt, I still have to stop and think about what it is I’m trying to do. Sometimes, the interface is so unintuitive that I jab at the SYNC button with frustration and curtly inform the synthetic slave girl behind the dash what exactly it is I want “her” to do.

There are plenty of “hey, neat” moments too. The touch-screen provides a handy interface for managing Bluetooth devices, allowing you to connect multiple gadgets simultaneously, assigning each a priority and function. Want to stream music from your iPod touch but make calls from your Blackberry? Stream music from your Droid but use your passenger’s iPhone for phone calls? No sweat. It’s all right there in the phone settings menu. Tech geeks can tweak to their hearts’ content.

Well-executed too are the customizable LCD displays flaking the speedometer (Certain models get only one, mounted dead-center. Focus buyers, I’m looking at you). They share the duties of the typical center-mounted multifunction display that has recently become somewhat of a staple. The left-side screen focuses on vehicle systems (tachometer, fuel economy display, trip info, vehicle health, etc.) and the right is a further extension of the infotainment system, allowing the driver to choose quickly from different audio/video sources or adjust those already selected using wheel-mounted buttons—yes, another layer of control.

The truth is, the story of MyFord Touch is much like that of any other fancy gadget. Early adopters get the worst of it, dealing with patches and updates and pesky issues that never seem to go away. Such is the way of modern software, unfortunately. To most of us, it’ll never matter. Nobody’s forcing it on us, and we’re content to choose something else. To fanboys, it’ll be a reminder of why they’re so certain that Ford can’t build a good car.

Hey, everybody needs something to hang on to.

Byron Hurd’s “Lord Byron” column can be found here at SpeedSportLife

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Dr. Gilbert Explains His Research Into Toyota Electronics Fri, 26 Feb 2010 14:37:22 +0000

Key quote: “What I have done is, I have shown that in the fault detection strategy of the Toyota systems, there’s a window of opportunity where [an error] could occur and not be detected.”

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