Spoken command systems a big help
In just five years, talking to your car has gone from a whispered prayer when you fear the battery is dead to a reason to choose one brand over another. Leading automakers have poured resources into systems that respond to spoken commands and seamlessly integrated features from smartphones.
The best of the systems reduce distraction. They make driving easier and more pleasant. The worst can infuriate customers and devastate an automaker's reputation.
Each of the new systems from the Detroit Three has its strengths. Ford is proud of Sync's control of audio and voice commands to smartphones. The latest MyFord Touch iteration, an 8-inch touch screen, has improved after initial glitches. General Motors, both in Chevrolet's MyLink and Cadillac's CUE system, allows drivers to dictate an address simply and quickly. Chrysler's Uconnect emphasizes the ability to read text messages to the driver and translate spoken responses back into text.
Ford's Sync voice-recognition system was the first and best of the systems. It quickly became a major reason people bought Ford vehicles. Other automakers scrambled to catch up.
Chrysler, GM and Toyota all have introduced voice-recognition systems. Meanwhile, Ford added features to Sync and developed MyFord Touch, a controversial control panel that initially dispensed with traditional dials for many climate and audio controls. Recent Ford and Lincoln models have restored some of those conventional buttons and knobs.
Sync's response to commands became slower and less accurate. MyFord Touch made simple tasks too complicated, driving customers and reviewers to distraction.
Customer complaints about MFT damaged Ford's hard-won reputation for quality in third-party surveys by J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports.
Despite that feedback, Ford's Sync was so far ahead of the competition that it's still better than the voice-recognition software in competing products. Like GM and Chrysler's systems, it combines spoken commands with steering wheel controls and a touch screen that can be easier to use than the rotary controllers and joysticks some brands use.
Straightforward, intuitive controls win this battle. If you're shopping, here's what to look for:
• Does the vehicle have Bluetooth for hands-free phone calls and streaming audio?
• Does it take just one or two quick commands to perform common tasks like making a phone call or dictating an address to the navigation system?
• Are the commands easy to remember, like natural speech?
• How quickly does it respond to commands?
• How accurately does it understand commands?
A bad system can reduce you to sputtering frustration, increasing driver distraction rather than reducing it. A good one will make driving more relaxing and enjoyable for as long as you own the vehicle.
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Nutritional supplement makers, led by GNC, want to create voluntary safety standards
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Smartphones expected to overtake desktops for holiday shopping
- Take steps to make it harder for holiday hackers
- Many Black Friday deals not worth the hassle
- QVC blazes trail as mobile retail giant
- Stocks finish flat before Thanksgiving holiday; energy firms give back some gains
- Covestro leader MacCleary finds stability amid change
- Union leaders warn Post-Gazette newsroom of possible layoffs
- Mall stores required to open for Thanksgiving
- Existing-home sales fall 3.4% in October