Ford (NYSE:F) is expanding the reach of its in-car SYNC AppLink system to more vehicles for the 2012 model year, including the Fusion sedan, the F-150 pickups, the Expedition SUV and the Shelby GT500 muscle car.
AppLink lets smartphone owners use voice and steering-wheel controls to run a selected set of mobile apps with less distraction. Like Toyota's Entune, it brings services like streaming Web radio service Pandora to the car, giving owners access on the go to the same apps they use at the gym, the house, or the office.
It "gives more customers a smarter way to access their apps while driving," says Doug VanDagens, Ford's director of connected services, while it "keeps their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road."
AppLink is one of the portfolio of technologies Ford is fitting across its lineup as it seeks a marketing edge for its newest vehicles. In this case, it grabs the coattails of the huge mobile-app market, which Ford says has led Apple iPhone and iPad users alone to download more than 14 billion apps to their smartphones and devices.
It also addresses the growing concern over infotainment services available in new cars--features that have led Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study, calling all kinds of distracted driving "an evolving threat."
In a recent study, Nationwide Mutual Insurance found 25 percent of smartphone users admitted accessing apps while driving. Ford's own studies suggest 64 percent of drivers feel less distracted when using SYNC to control devices.
AppLink will be standard on vehicles that come equipped with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-driven controller that enables voice commands of phone, entertainment and navigation features. The service has been available as a download on the company's SYNCMyRide Web site since last year. At launch, it will enable SYNC, which retails for $395, to control mobile versions of Pandora; of Stitcher, another mobile-audio app; and of OpenBeak, a mobile Twitter interface.
In all, ten models are adding AppLink for the new model year. The functionality was announced earlier this year, in tandem with the updated Mustang lineup.