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Adventures in Automotive Technology – MyFord Touch

Kamil Kaluski October 4, 2011 Gadget Reviews 28 Comments

We’re not averse to new technology here in the Hooniverse. As such, we were eager to get a look at the latest that Dearborn has to offer. Ford’s MyTouch system is a combination of infotainment and HVAC controls available on most new Fords and Lincolns (R.I.P. Mercury). Having driven two vehicles so equipped I found this interface via touchscreen, steering wheel buttons, or voice to be extremely frustrating. It just did not work well for me but your results may.

The man in this video is Craig Fitzgerald. Craig used to work at Hemmings, but now contributes to the Boston Globe. He has a fine taste in cars, recently selling his pristine Pontiac Parisienne for a Buick Rivera. The man also owned a Series II Land Rover and a bunch of cars that I don’t know much about. Several years ago Craig bought my E39 525i Touring, which is now driven by his wife.

In this video Craig shows us how well the voice-controlled portion of the MyTouch system works. With a little more patiance I had slightly better results, but they were far from good. The problem with using the touch-screen is that it’s placed low in the dash requiring the driver to take his or her eyes off the road. I almost rear-ended an Expedition in an Lincoln MKX.

In the Explorer, there are two little screens on each side of the speedometer, which are controlled by the arrows on each side of the steering wheel. This work surprsingly well. Having said that, Craig is right in the fact that a few simple knobs would make the whole experience much more pleasent and most importantly, safer.

  • My wife's new Edge has the MFT. For the most part, I love it. The voice commands work great for us.

    You are right that the touch screen and side screens could use some help. The side screens on the dash I set up how I want them before I leave the driveway then I don't bother with them any more. My biggest problem with the touchscreen is some of the "buttons" are small, and it sometimes doesn't take inputs right away.

    Overall, it's a decent system that I think needed a little more development time before it was released. It's one thing to have bugs on a $600 computer; it's quite different to have bugs on a $35,000 car.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      My wife's aunt is Polish and her uncle Greek, with those accents and hot tempers, it was a hoot to be in the back seat and watch them try and use voice commands!

    • Devin

      On the upside, most of it is software, so presumably they could just do bugfixes at regular service intervals and it'd eventually turn into a much less buggy system.

      On the downside, downloading new firmware is annoying as hell on every single other gadget I own, I don't want to do it for my car too.

  • The Professor

    I haven't had a chance to play with any of the new systems yet, but up to this point I'd prefer tactile buttons that I can feel in the the dark, rather than a touchscreen that you have to look at. You have to take your eyes off of the road for too long in many cases (or at least I do). Voice commands always make me feel like a pillock.

    • Voice commands make me feel like the future has finally arrived. Though, I am disappointed I don't have to phrase the command, "Computer, call wife."

      • Smells_Homeless

        Yet, 'Neerd. You don't have to say that yet.

      • Charles_Barrett

        I just want it to respond to user input with a simple "Working…", and sound like Majel Barrett in need of a nasal decongestant…

      • ptschett

        Most of the voice command systems I've used make me feel that a future has arrived, but one more farcical or dystopian than I was expecting. I've told my phone to "play more songs like this" in mp3 player mode and had it respond with "callling someone whose name has no resemblance to the command". And I've given up on the voice commands for my state's 511 system because it depends on (and fails miserably at) understanding your pronunciation of the number that you otherwise would have pressed on the keypad, since I only know of a few ways to say, e.g. "one" yet none of them seem to be the right way.

        • Van Sarockin

          Maybe your random friend has a really cool, enormous music collection, AND YOUR CAR KNOWS THIS.

          • ptschett

            Come to think of it, I was listening to a band that I was turned onto by that particular friend, and he does have a good collection.

        • Maymar

          In an older job, one of my responsibilities was answering incoming calls. The following was a shockingly common exchange.
          "Good afternoon, *company name,* Ryan speaking, how may I help you?"
          "Yeah, hi Frank, can you connect me to…"

          If large numbers of humans can somehow mistake Frank for Ryan, I'm not going to expect computers to be anywhere near perfect.

          • chrystlubitshi

            I make 20-30 outgoing phone calls a day (at work) and take all incoming calls using the name "JOE". I'm not sure what kind of speech impediment I must have, as I've never had one; but at least a few people every single day think I say "Gerald"… not sure how that works.

  • My old phone had a tiny keyboard that my fingers had memorized, and I could type entire emails or texts with one hand while not needing to take my eyes off the road. Just a quick proofread at the next stoplight to look for the inevitable typos, and it was easy to navigate the cursor over to correct myself as well.

    My new touch-screen "smart" phone takes 2 hands and my full attention and it STILL can't send a simple message without needing to babysit what is being displayed, then perform a bunch of complicated maneuvers trying to unfix random word swaps and leaving the text completely messed up and lost in a random folder. I've all but given up using the damn thing to try and communicate with.

    We've got 2 A/V systems at home, the older one has buttons, knobs and relays and I can make it do exactly what I want while walking past or sitting on the couch with a remote. The newer one has a Graphical User Interface and everything is tied together in a way that must have only made sense to the engineer programming it. It takes hours of sitting on the floor in front of it to figure out, and longer to make sound ok. Then switch one wrong parameter and the whole damn thing reverts back to some generic crappy preset. I've all but given up on using it for entertainment. Super-spouse uses it to watch/record her damn reality TV shows and that's it.

    My MGBs have levers under the dash that you yank on till they give way with a satisfying "clunk!" to let fresh air in. I can do that while travelling at top speed/full throttle or sitting in a cloud of smoke. Sure, something sharp under the dash cuts my hand every time, but at least I have fresh air to dry the blood at my beckoning.

    The last time I rented a vehicle with a central Audio/HVAC stack I gave up trying to figure it out while driving. A car should NEVER by design put you in a situation where the driver resorts to "uuuuhhh…"

    Basic operation of a vehicle's systems should be simple, logical, easy and intuitive. I'm sure people eventually get used to these new multi-function stacks, but damnit, all I need is a few buttons levers and knobs. If I want to try and learn how to operate an overly complicated computerized GUI system, I'll go watch TV.

    /soapbox

  • PowerTryp

    Actually since I work for a Ford dealer(in parts) I just recently did my online training for the MyFord Touch system and it amazed me how deep the system went and how many prefferences you could set to your own liking.

    Also since I've decided that I'm going to buy a Ford Focus ST when they come out next year (I'll be fully confident of the EcoBoost tech seeing as it's been out since mid 09 in 2010 model) I'm looking forward to completely and absolutly ruining the system.

    • Even if it can be configured so that each function is activated only via its own unique string of utterly foul obscenities I still wouldn't….

      Hmmm….

      Nope. Not even then. Count me with ZomBee, above. I can yell at the cars I've already got.

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        If "shut the Hell up, I'm trying to hear a clunk" will turn off the head unit and turn down the blower automatically, I'm for it.

  • Mad_Hungarian

    The first of these multi-function touch screens appeared on a Buick Riviera sometime in the 1980's. It was quickly recognized as an unnecessarily complex and difficult way to do simple things, and we went back to buttons, knobs and levers. Up until a few years ago I was driving a '92 Town Car which was the last year you could get it with the standard three-lever climate control — no need to take your eyes off the road or yell at the dash. I fear that in a world where most designers have an iPhone in their pockets, we won't have the courage to turn our backs on these maddening screens again.

    • tonyola

      The CRT touch screen first appeared on the downsized 1986 Riviera. The CRT and the Riv's visual similarity to cheaper Somerset Regals caused sales to plummet by two-thirds compared to 1985. Buick added some buttons to the periphery of the CRT screen for 1987 to make selecting functions easier, but it was still somewhat troublesome and not loved. Though the CRT also appeared on the 1988 Reatta, it was gone from both cars by 1990.
      <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/Buick-TouchScreen-x.jpg"&gt;

      • From_a_Buick_6

        I always liked how one of the buttons was marked "GAGES" instead of "gauges," and nobody at GM seemed to notice or care enough to correct it during the production run.

        • tonyola

          For some strange reason, GM used "gages" instead of "gauges" in it promotional material for quite a few years, including ads and brochures.

        • Van Sarockin

          They didn't squander any vowels. Nd they pass'd th savngs on 2 U.

        • "Gages" is an acceptable spelling.

          It denotes English unit gages. While "gauges" denotes metric unit gages.*

          *The spelling part is true. I just totally made up the units thing.

      • RichardKopf

        I really want one of those screens. Sure it's pure kitsch, but that just makes me want it more.

  • Feds_II

    I don't know if I'm ever going to "get" multifunctoryinfovacuheat systems. Right now, if I want the car hotter inside, I turn a knob from blue to red. If I don't like where the air is blowing, I rotate the knob (or slide the slider) until the pointer lines up with the picture of air blowing at the parts of my body i want it to blow at. if the radio is too loud, I turn a knob until it is quieter, and if i don't like what's on, I turn it off.

    Why over complicate the matter?

    • ptschett

      Even the regular selectors are getting complicated, in a sense. In high school I mostly drove '70's vehicles where the fan selector was of course electric, but the temperature and vent selection mostly used mechanical means (whether cables or linkages or vacuum) to do their thing. Now with my '90's Ford and newer Dodges they're still the familiar selectors but now they're fully electric, and in the event of a failure the Mopars can even set error codes in one of the computer modules.

      • The climate control in my CRX uses a mechanical knob to control the heater core valves and air mix doors. The mechanism is notoriously fragile and obnoxiously rare, since Honda saw fit to give each EF Civic variant its own version of the dash controls. As a result, changing from fan operation to heater mode involves the following steps:

        1) Turn temperature knob all the way to the right.
        2) Pop the hood.
        3) Exit car.
        3) Locate coolant valve leading to heater core on firewall.
        4) Check that valve is in open position.
        5) Close hood.
        6) Return to driver's seat.
        7) Reach under dashboard and locate air mix door control arm.
        8) Rotate control arm to the right.

        Et voila, hot air (at least after the thermostat opens in a few minutes)! It took me two years of ownership before I figured this out; I just figured that the heater core was clogged.

      • Feds_II

        Through nothing but good fortune, both my Protege5 (a sprightly 2003 model) and my MPV (now college-aged) both have cables actuating the temperature and direction adjustment. The rental Altima I have been driving uses some kind of voodoo to move the air around behind the dash, and I'm constantly frustrated by it's sequence of operation:

        Hmmm, my hands are cold… better put some air in the dash vent
        [press button, move hand to dash vent]
        What the hell!?! why is there no air here!?! Is this thing broken… It only has 18,000 kms on it
        [rage interrupted by series of clunks behind the dash board. Air starts flowing to dash vents]

        I still need to reach my hand to the HVAC, I still need to take my eyes off the road to find the right button, so there is no ergonomic improvement. The lack of instant feedback means I am MORE distracted, so there is actually a functional detriment. I don't understand how this stuff gets through development.

  • rocketrodeo

    I did on-road vehicle testin for Ford several years ago, and I thought the first generation of Ford's sync was amazingly well integrated, and did just what you told it to do. It did wonders with my 15,000-song iPod, though it took better than an hour to index it the first time. I hate to think that Ford has screwed this up in the interim.