Ford Microsoft collaborate on Sync

iTrip, your days are iNumbered. I saw a demonstration of Sync and;it (&$#ing rocks!

Even before I started working at a car magazine and got into a different car each evening after work, I had a big problem trying to listen to music. I had five cars, and it seems like Murphy and his blasted law continually conspired to keep me from jamming to my favorite tunes.

I would make it ten miles from home and realize that I had not a single CD in the car with me. Or I would have all 400, and be traveling to a bad part of town in a wagon (in which I couldn’t conceal the CDs from passers-by). Or maybe I did have the CD I wanted to listen to – but it wouldn’t play because it was so scratched from transporting it from car to car to car.

The solution to this dilemma was elegant – for a couple hundred bucks, I bought a 40GB iPod. Over the course of a few days, I ripped in each of my 382 CDs, and suddenly I had all of my music, anywhere I went.; I no longer had to worry about my CD collection being stolen and never being able to afford to buy them all again – CDs aren’t generally covered by insurance if they’re outside of your house.; Not to mention replacing the obscure, out-of-print ones that I cherished so much.

For my three cars with aftermarket stereos that have RCA inputs in the back, I installed a cable to plug the iPod in directly.; For jamming in the other two, I bought an iTrip, a little gem that broadcasts my melodies over the FM waves, through the Quartz tuner of my stereo, and out of the crackly, old speakers.; It worked wonderfully.

Oh, but iTrip, your days are iNumbered. At the Detroit Auto Show earlier this week, a Ford engineer gave me a demonstration of the new Sync system.; And Oh My God, it’s awesome.

Sync has a USB port that allows you to use your iPod through the car’s stereo system. While that’s not a new innovation, the ease with which it works is unparalleled (at least to my eyes).; Plug in your iPod, and you’re done – you can instantly browse your music on-screen through the iPod’s usual categories: playlists, artists, albums, etc.

That’s impressive, but not nearly as impressive as its voice recognition abilities. The engineer pressed a button on the steering wheel and, in his thick Indian accent, said “Play Artist: Barenaked Ladies.”; The Sync system repeated his command to him, and instantly started playing One Week – and lined up all of Barenaked Ladies’ songs in a playlist.; He could have just as easily said “Play Title: Sexy Back” and, had it been loaded on his iPod, I would have started dancing to Justin Timberlake’s best song to date.

Ah, yeah.; Anyway.

Impressed?; Wait, there’s more!; You don’t actually need an iPod.; All you need is any USB device.; Even a USB memory stick works – put your songs on it, and the system will work the same way.; (Apparently, it plays just about any format of song file, and in any directory structure).

And if you thought the voice recognition thing was cool for music, wait until you pair your Bluetooth phone up to the system. Not only does it pull your entire phonebook off of your phone (500 entries would take less than 20 seconds, according to the engineer), it automatically creates voice tags for name recognition.; So, if I have Justin Timberlake’s number in my phone (I don’t), I would be able to call him simply by telling the system to.; It also understands that most people have more than one phone – so I could say “Call Justin Timberlake at home” or “…at work.”

Should an SMS (Text Message for those of you who listen to Ryan Seacrest) come in while you’re driving, you can have the computer read it out loud to you.; And if your friends write “LOL” in the middle of the SMS? The computer says “Laughing out Loud”, not “lull”.; Pretty impressive.

The system also supports Bluetooth audio devices – the engineer used a multimedia-enabled cellphone to stream music from the Virgin UK website over the Atlantic and to his phone, and then Bluetooth to pipe it into the car’s audio system. In case you missed that, read it again, it’s Jetsons-esque ridiculousness.

And if you’re feeling a little multilingual, Sync will obey your commands in French or Spanish.

Ford was heavily involved in the development of Sync, and will be introducing it to the public on the 2008 Focus this fall.; It will then be rolled out onto all other Ford products.; Ford retains an exclusive license until the end of 2008, at which point the technology will make its way into other cars and devices.

I know I can’t wait – and believe me, once you’ve seen this system, you’ll want it right now too.

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