Although it's not the first, Ford is teaming up with Amazon to integrate Amazon Echo and Alexa into its vehicles. It will also be expanding the capabilities of Sync and Sync AppLink with new apps and new partners. In addition, Ford is finally adding WiFi hotspot capabilities to a number of vehicles, starting this fall.
Since the latest generation launched last year, Ford has worked to expand Sync beyond traditional radio, media, and navigation capabilities. With the Amazon partnership, owners will be able to listen to audiobooks, search local destinations, request news and sports scores, and even add items to an Amazon shopping list. Using an Amazon Echo, owners can start and stop the engine, lock and unlock the doors, and check the fuel level. BMW and Hyundai have similar Echo integration, but Ford is the first automaker to bring Alexa inside the vehicle.
The expansion of Sync AppLink is a big deal for Ford, as Toyota announced this week that it will be adopting the standard for its vehicles. With new apps from ExxonMobil, Samsung, and DriverScore, owners will be able to take advantage of things like wireless payments straight from their car. Ford will be integrating IBM's Watson into Sync, bringing machine-learning and a digital assistant that's an alternative to Amazon's Alexa.
Ford is also partnering with Samsung to bring the wide world of wearable devices to cars. Samsung Gear S2 and S3 smartwatches will be able to connect with Sync. Right now the system is limited to remembering parking spaces or audible driving alerts, but both Samsung and Ford are looking to expand the watch's reach.
With WiFi integration, Ford joins GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo, and others in providing wireless internet through AT&T. Up to 10 devices can be connected, and the signal reaches up to 50 feet outside the vehicles.
While all of these things seem small on their own, the big picture is obvious to Ford. The automaker wants to create a unified system that will make it easier for both drivers and software developers to bring their world together, all with Ford's open source SmartDeviceLink creating the backbone across cars of any make and model.