(Adds Ford using Blackberry software for new Sync 3 in-car connectivity)
By Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co hopes to get a fresh start and erase bad memories for some owners when it launches the new version of its in-car, interactive touch-screen system next fall.
Ford said Sync 3 will be more intuitive, sport improved voice-recognition software and operate more like a smartphone than the first two generations, the last of which prompted customer complaints in Consumer Reports magazine for being distracting, clumsy and overly complex.
Ford is replacing Microsoft Corp software used on its first two generations of in-car connectivity with smartphone maker Blackberry Ltd’s QNX system for Sync 3.
Previous generations of Sync and MyFord Touch performed poorly in Consumers Reports’ surveys.
Chief Technology Officer Raj Nair said Ford put a lot of effort into finding out what customers wanted, including drawing on 22,000 consumer comments.
Citing smartphone ownership of 80 percent by Ford customers, Nair said Sync 3 will “perform more like today’s smartphones and tablets but with specific details to make it appropriate for travel.” It will also “seamlessly integrate” with Apple Inc’s Siri virtual-assistant capability for iPhone users.
Getting connectivity right is important for all automakers at a time when problems with infotainment systems are often the biggest complaint about new vehicles, according to Consumer Reports.
Ford said it has turned the corner on customer satisfaction on the current version of Sync, which was introduced in January 2007.
Nair said Sync 3 was the most heavily researched program in Ford’s history. The new version was developed over 18 months, and includes a simplified layout, larger fonts and bigger finger touch zones. The development budget was undisclosed.
IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis said the current MyFord Touch system still carries the stigma of early consumer complaints and said Ford was smart to drop the name for upcoming models. Calling Sync 3 a likely success, he said it will help that bad history fade.
The third generation of Ford’s connectivity system will begin to appear in new cars and trucks in North America next fall for model year 2016 and be available across its North American lineup by the end of 2016 for the 2017 model year.
Pricing will be similar on Sync 3 to the current version, which costs just under $1,000.
Ford will offer the new system in Europe and Asia, but has not announced the timing. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)