DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. will begin rolling out over-the-air software updates as part of an overhaul of the Sync infotainment system it plans to introduce in 2020.
That could eliminate some of the trips customers now take to a dealership to have their vehicle's computers reflashed or updated as part of a recall.
The newest version of Sync also will offer larger touch screens, more conversational voice recognition capability and standard cloud connectivity.
Ford officials would not say which vehicles will get Sync 4 and over-the-air updates first, but, because changes to the electrical system and hardware are needed, they would be part of a redesign or launch of a new model.
The over-the-air update capability aims to make Ford's infotainment system as easy to use as a cellphone, said Don Butler, Ford's executive director of vehicle and services. "This levels the playing field," he said Tuesday during a media preview of the system.
An 8-inch touch screen is standard, but customers can upgrade to a 12-inch or 15.5-inch screen. The largest screen uses what Ford calls "dash cards" across the bottom. The square cards contain frequently used apps, such as navigation, entertainment and phone, that are launched by touch or voice command.
The system includes digital owner's manuals with videos demonstrating some vehicle features and wireless compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
One goal of Sync 4 is to reduce driver distraction, some of which comes from scrolling through menus and tabs.
"With this new fourth-generation technology, we've evolved Sync into an intelligent, voice activated, in-vehicle digital assistant," Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's product development chief, said in a statement.
Sync 4's voice recognition can be used to locate restaurants or other destinations similar to how a consumer would ask Apple's Siri assistant or Amazon's Alexa. Sync 4 is activated by saying, "OK, Ford."
Some updates will be invisible to customers, Ford said. Software can be installed in the background while the old software continues to run. When the new software is downloaded and ready to install, the driver is notified. Most updates will take two minutes or less, Ford said.
Ford doesn't plan to use Sync for recalls initially and expects the first over-the-air updates to take place about six months after Sync 4 debuts. Those updates will focus on convenience, entertainment, quality and new features.
Butler said Ford has consulted with dealers about eventually carrying out some recall work via over-the-air updates. He said Ford and dealers agree that reducing service trips for recall work would improve customer satisfaction and ultimately increase business.