Ford announced today that an upgraded version of its MyFord Touch infotainment system will both appear in freshened 2013 models and will be available as an upgrade for current owners. It aims to improve both interface and reliability issues—areas we have noted as critical weaknesses.
Ford has been fighting a public relations battle with MyFord Touch. The company cites customer survey data saying that many buyers felt the technology was an important part of the buying decision, but there is plenty of well-founded criticism about MyFord Touch’s performance. While this latest announcement states that “Ford and Microsoft engineers developed an improved user experience based on feedback from owners, dealers, and employees,” Consumer Reports criticism probably plays a role in this, too. (Read: “MyFord/MyLincoln Touch: A touch of intuition, or insanity?”)
We evaluated the original MyFord/MyLincoln Touch in the freshened-for-2011 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX and the redesigned-for 2011 Ford Explorer. Small fonts, crowded screens, weak cuing, and the elimination of most tactile knobs and buttons were problems. Complaints with this interface contributed to the Edge and MKX scoring too low to be recommended, and kept the Explorer’s score low compared to its marketplace rivals.
But there were more problems. The system was simply buggy. Response to touch-screen inputs was slow. Sometimes the system froze or completely crashed. Various minor updates didn’t really solve all of the problems. Just last week I tried to browse iPod songs in our MKX for a demonstration. System response was so slow that I just gave up and picked another car.
It’s not just us, either. Our reliability survey reports that 14 to 19 percent of Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX owners report problems with the audio system—not criticisms, but true problems. A later release, Explorers were somewhat less buggy, with about 10 percent having a problem—very high for a brand-new car. J.D. Power reported reliability and design problems, as well. Other journalists have reported experiences with troublesome press cars. MyFord Touch’s problems go beyond online defenses claiming that only Luddites and technology-averse owners are complaining. Owners and professional automotive experts are complaining. Real people.
With MyFord Touch’s reputation, its no wonder Ford has announced this suite of improvements twice, including a November 7, 2011 press release. Interface improvements include larger fonts and simplified screens. Response time is claimed to be “much faster so drivers can tap controls and focus on driving.”
Current owners will receive a USB flash drive for downloading the software into their cars; they will be mailed out this week. We’ll report on the hour-long download experience and the interface changes to our Lincoln MKX.
The updated-for-2013 Ford Taurus and Flex and Lincoln MKS and MKT get MyFord/MyLincoln Touch in their revamped dashboards. Those cars, as well as other new 2013 models with the system, will already have these upgrades baked in.
Our thoughts? It’s definitely a plus that previous purchasers can upgrade their cars without going to the dealer. And we’re happy that Ford has made changes to streamline the interface.
But we’d be a lot happier if MyFord Touch always came with hard buttons and knobs for common functions. (Control design depends on the particular product; a Focus has more traditional controls than a MKX.) These controls provide tactile feedback that you can find and use without looking at a screen or moving through on-screen pages. From what we’ve seen so far of the upgrade, Chrysler’s big touch-screen system—complete with hard keys for common functions—still appears to have an advantage in layout and design.
One side note: Ford’s press release mentions that SYNC hands-free technology is frequently used by customers. We’re big fans of SYNC; using voice commands instead of physically manipulating a phone or music player greatly improves eyes-on-road time. Technologies like SYNC will be important in complying with NHTSA’s recently announced voluntary guidelines for reducing distracting controls.
But SYNC and MyFord Touch are distinct concepts. You can get SYNC without MyFord Touch. Indeed, many Ford buyers do, as SYNC has a high take rate across their product lineup. Finally, having voice commands is no excuse for eliminating simple buttons and knobs for common functions, like temperature settings or radio tuning. In the pursuit of high-tech vanity, Ford has introduced potential problems where none previously existed. There is something to be said for keeping it simple, and redundant hard keys can help.
Ford updates MyFord Touch - Customers speak, automaker listens
Out of Sync? Ford broadens in-car access to texting
Infotainment vs distraction: Automakers send mixed messages
Ford working to make Sync, MyFord Touch a better listener
Buyers unhappy with MyFord Touch
MyFord Touch may be complicated, distracting, and frustrating, but at least you can Facebook for help