By on August 31, 2011

[Skip ahead to 2:08 (or don’t)]

It’s the stuff of a Ray LaHood nightmare. Automotive News [sub]’s lede comes screaming out of the blackness:

BERLIN — Ford Motor Co. has adapted its Sync in-car connectivity system to cope with high speeds on German autobahns.

But you can’t wake up, Mr Secretary of Transportation. For this is no dream…

Luckily, it is happening far away in Germany… and Ford’s not even doing all that much to change its hands-free entertainment and communication system. Per Jason Johnson, user interface design engineer for Sync product development,

Ford had to do more than simply program the technology to understand different European languages. The system also has to allow for how Europeans drive… For instance, at autobahn speeds, Ford found that its navigation system wasn’t giving sufficient warning that the desired exit was coming up. The system had to be reprogrammed to give extra warning

Otherwise, Germans should feel free to use their hands-free systems at whatever speed they happen to be driving. After all, if your hands are on the wheel, it’s not a distraction, amiright? Ray? Anybody?

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21 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: Hands Free At High Speeds Edition...”

  • avatar

    Per Jason Johnson, user interface design engineer for Sync product development

    If his purveyance includes MyTouch, this man needs to be fired. I got some extended time in a new Explorer recently and the interface is an glitchy, overly-complex, solution-looking-for-a-problem trainwreck.

    And this is coming from someone who writes mobile apps in his spare time.

    I like much of what Ford’s done recently, but they seem to have thrown out everything we’ve ever learned about good UI design with their most recent models’ ICE systems.

    • 0 avatar

      “And this is coming from someone who writes mobile apps in his spare time.”

      Fine, Jason Johnson, user interface design engineer for Sync product development, officially apologizes for trying to take away your crown. You are the undisputed King of creating glitchy, over-complex application trainwrecks.

      • 0 avatar

        Look, I know people who work at RIM on the PlayBook. They’re much smarter than I am, and they still produced a product that is both brilliant and deeply flawed. Hell, even Apple, King Of All UI, flubs it sometimes (seen the QuickTime 4 volume control?). Just because the man is in a lofty position doesn’t make him infallible in his field nor immune to criticism. Case in point: G. Richard Wagoner, Jr.

        I’m also not claiming the stuff I do is any great shakes, either. That’s not my point. The point is that I have a pretty high tolerance for glitchiness (again, PlayBook user and developer, here) and even I found MyTouch frustrating to use while parked. At speed, while operating the vehicle, it’s thart much worse.

        I’m going to quote Steve Jobs here: When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.

        That’s exactly what Ford, and what Mr Johnson’s group, did not do. They didn’t take away complexity and strip it down to the point where it worked very well, they took a moderately complex thing (Sync) and added more complexity to it (MyTouch) to the point where it causes more problems than it solves, and I’d hazard there wasn’t a problem there to solve in the first place.

      • 0 avatar

        Psar –

        As far as the touchscreen controls go, I’ll admit I prefer the previous Ford nav system to the MyFord Touch. When it comes to the voice controls though, the MyFord Touch does a whole lot more a whole lot easier than the previous system.

        The touchscreen controls are far from perfect, but that’s irrelevant when you learn to use the voice commands which get the job done easily without ever having to take your hands off of the wheel. The MyFord Touch voice activated nav system is the first I’ve ever used that let’s you say the entire address in one go (e.g. ‘Destination Street Address — 1823 East Main Street, Wrightsville Beach, NC’) and have it parse it correctly the first time 90%+ of the time. The voice controls also work well for audio, climate, and phone commands. There are very few things you need to do through the touchscreen, and none that you have to do while in motion on the road.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that MFT is a solution for a nonexistant problem. Traditional stereo & A/C controls are superior to the MFT interface in every way.

      Touchscreens have their uses/advantages, but Ford screwed it up. The controls you use most often should be the ones with real, physical buttons, while the ones that are rarely used can be relegated to the touch screen menus. But what did Ford include as a real, physical button? … “sound”! How often do you mess with that?

  • avatar

    Interesting. So, at Ford, they are assuming a driver who doesn’t care for road signs anymore, simply relying on Ford gadgets instead? This will certainly end well…

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not about disregarding road signs anymore than any other navigation system would encourage someone to. The Sync turn-by-turn directions is basically just a text based nav system that’s available for a greatly reduced price compared to a traditional nav system in a variety of vehicles.

  • avatar

    I decided to test drive a 2012 Lincoln MKX (the one based on the ford flex) and the sales guy was talking up the My touch system. Halfway through the test drive the main screen started acting up. Then the fan came on full blast and started blowing HOT air in my face… while it’s 80 plus degrees outside. The sales guy tried to turn it off, but all the controls where non responsive. Had to pull over and restart the car. Poor sales guy, he knew there would be no sale at the end of that test drive.

    I fail to see the luxury in a system that forces me to pull over for a reboot. Put that turd back in the oven Ford, because it’s not done yet. It will be cool after all the usability and reliability kinks get worked out though.

    • 0 avatar

      The one based on the Flex is the MKT, and it doesn’t have MyFord (or rather MyLincoln) touch yet. The MKX does, but it’s the one based on the Edge. If it was a three row vehicle it was the MKT, if it was a two row that you drove, it was the MKX.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    “Ford Motor Co. has adapted its Sync in-car connectivity system to cope with high speeds on German autobahns.”

    I wonder what they had to do to make it work – compensate for the Doppler effect, as the cars approach the speed of light?

  • avatar

    The German system has probably also been tuned to begin speaking earlier on exit names of 20 characters or more.

    Turn left at Straßenachdemersteneinkaufszentrumineinemvorortvonberlin… Make a u-turn.

  • avatar

    I’m firmly in the “don’t like Ray LaHood” camp, but I agree that touch screen controls on a car are an abomination. IF you can’t feel the buttons, you therefore MUST look to touch it. If you’re looking at the touchscreen, you’re not looking at the road. Guaranteed fail.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree 1000%.

      It’s like people that complain that wheel-mounted switches are not illuminated, likewise door-mounted power window switches. They are all designed to be operated by feel. If you expect to use the switches, have a look at them before you set off. Mind you the number of switches on steering wheels is getting over the top on some cars, they should remember it is only the steering wheel not the dashboard!

    • 0 avatar

      So simple, why can’t car makers understand that?

      A touch screen can be good for things that you simply can’t have buttons for, such as picking locations on a map. It is also good for things that get used so rarely (like service menus, clock setting) that it’s a waste to give them their own buttons or confusing to combine them with other buttons.

      However, for those things you use all the time, like AC & stereo, they NEED to be real, tactile buttons/knobs. After all, we’ve had the better part of a century to perfect those controls, so what makes them think they can do better with a novelty they’ve been playing with a couple years?

  • avatar

    If there is anyone who can use this system without causing a pile up or end up driving like an idiot, it’s the Germans.
    Bar none, the best drivers in the world, end of story.
    For one thing if they use the Sync system you can bet their hands will be on the wheel (always at 9 and 3)and not on a monster coffee mug or tapping away on a cell phone.
    I can confidently predict the accident rate would be far less than here in NA.

  • avatar

    All that BS about conducting data-driven studies might mean something if his department hadn’t conducted the Toyota UA witch hunt. I think we already know the results of the DOT distracted-driving study: more regulation and/or laws against it.

    The following piece, from 3:45 – 6:00 addresses increasing public subsidies for the Allegheny County mass transit system here in western Pennsylvania. He implies that ridership is down because the gov’t doesn’t provide enough subsidy for this lousy system. The facts are that this system has one of the highest fare rates in the country, a strong union-driven cost structure, and a population base that is 1/2 of its level 40 years ago – and yet people expect service to remain the same. Mr. LaHood’s unsurprising answer is that he’ll just continue propping it up with taxpayer money.

    • 0 avatar

      Many of the things La Hood said weren’t unreasonable on the face of it … but the way he said them showed such a lust for power and a complete disdain for any kind of personal freedom on the road.

      I got the distinct impression that if he could forcibly drag people out of their cars and into “Transit”, he would.

      I have to agree with you about the Southwestern Pennsylvania public transportation system. A $2.75 fare means it’s significantly cheaper to drive. Union-based public transport only works in the NYC subway system, and it’s questionable whether it’s viable even there.

      Boy did he pick revoltingly sycophantic questions.

      I have this strange feeling that if I submitted my question:

      “95% of all trips are by car. 5% of all trips are by mass transit. Why spend billions to subsidize systems the public has so clearly rejected?”

      it would not appear on his show.

      I’d love to hear his answer.


      • 0 avatar

        Union-based public transport only works in the NYC subway system, and it’s questionable whether it’s viable even there

        No, it’s not questionable. The subway system alone ferries some seven million person-trips per day. Imagine what traffic, and commerce, would suffer, if you threw those people into cars.

        Mass transit is a cost savings measure for a large metropolis, as are things like congestion charges, taxi regulations and other “war on the car” measures. It’s not possible to run a city of that size on libertarian transport management, just as much as trying to run buses in the rural midwest is stupid.

        Lahood isn’t so much a powermonger as a showman. His brand of politics is about looking like you’re doing something, anything. It’s not about control, it’s about image. The problem is that he’s just not that deep a thinker and puts the need to say something right now ahead of thinking for a while longer and saying the right thing.

      • 0 avatar

        The question of mass-transit isn’t just about the mode of transport–which is all anyone ever seems to mention–but the trip itself.

        If you don’t have to commute, you don’t need a car or a bus. If there’s a traffic problem, you have to ask why are the people going there in the first place and not just how do you get them out of their cars.

        If you don’t ask the right questions, you will never get an optimal system.

  • avatar

    Here in Seattle, we have fares of $2.50 for a single zone ride, $3.00 for 2 zone fares, but if you are traveling through downtown Seattle, it’s a ride free zone and yet, the buses are often FULL in the afternoons on many routes, often to standing room only, the early morning routes such as the 212 out to Bellevue from the transit tunnels is often partially filled (I get on at 7AM and arrive at my place of work by 7:22-7:25AM) but I bet later 212 buses are MUCH more full than when I take it.

    Metro Transit in Seattle is heavily commuter ridership if that’s anything.

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