The Wide, Confusing World of Car Infotainment Systems

There's a lot going on. Maybe too much.

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Apple's CarPlay

There’s an awful lot happening with in-car systems for entertainment and information — especially ones which, in one way or another, work in partnership with smartphone apps. Over at Cnet, Tim Stevens has done an excellent job of pulling together a piece on everything that’s going on, including options from Apple and Google, a standard called MirrorLink and scads of decidedly proprietary technologies.

The market is so crowded with offerings, many of which are immature or not quite here yet, that it’s an inherently confusing subject. And so many car companies are still doing their own thing that it’s a little as if Samsung, HTC, Kyocera, LG and Sony all decided to write their own phone operating systems. But after reading Stevens’ piece, I’m better informed than I was, and tentatively excited about what’s to come.

Me, I recently bought a Ford Focus with MyFord Touch, Ford’s fanciest infotainment system. It has a mediocre-to-bad reputation. To some degree, that’s based on issues Ford has addressed with software updates, but I’ve had encountered a number of problems with it, including a touchscreen that occasionally can’t decide whether it’s registered my taps or not, and one bizarre evening when the radio didn’t want to turn off. I’m also befuddled by Ford’s failure to give MyFord Touch its useful AppLink technology, which lets smartphone apps work in concert with the car’s system. (AppLink only works with the older Sync platform.)

Then again, I’ve tried infotainment systems in other makes of automobile that were much worse than MyFord Touch, including the one in a Porsche Cayenne, which randomly and repeatedly decided to talk to me in French. The whole category remains immature, which is why I’m encouraged to see Apple get involved via CarPlay.

When my Focus’s system works — which is most of the time — I’m reasonably happy with it. And despite the “Touch” in its name, I’m happiest when I use it entirely via voice commands. That works almost flawlessly, and leads me to hope that future car interfaces depend at least as much on talk as they do on touch.


Give me knobs so I can tactile select an option/feature/control - looking at an interface means higher risk of collisions


Somewhere, somehow, the ultimate test of all automobile controls will be:

What can you perform, accurately and safely "in the blind," that is, without looking--reserving your vision for that all important traffic, signs, and road conditions outside of the vehicle?

There was a time when a slide of one control to the right was more heat....sliding it to the left was more air conditioning.  On/off/volume and tuning knobs/pushbuttons were identical from make to make, for decades.....and a more recent  twist to the right gave you more fan speed--to the left, less.

Now we have a hodge-podge locations and functions (with dramatically more options added).

It's pathetic, really, as in some models visual diversion is needed just to 'get it in the gear' (that is, to select the proper one). 

Clearly, we have lost our way in the ever-larger sea of gizmo worship.

It took government involvement to get us PRNDL and standardization of motorcycle controls (and that was quite some time ago).



I have a 2013 C-Max with My-Ford-Touch/Sync. I can't stand it, it is awful, and it wasn't ready to be installed. I have sent numerous emails through different channels of Ford Motor since December 2013, and not 1 person has responded.  The Navigation part is a piece of garbage unless you enter info manually. Sync couldn't understand 2 of 100 words from the most perfect-speaking person.     There have been no updates since August of last year.  Needs a major overhaul! BTW-the car, C-Max, is a pleasure and fun to drive!


Your perspective on the MyFord Touch system is interesting to me - I've had a Fusion for a little over a month now, and haven't really had any issues with the system.  Also, I've found that I much prefer to use the touchscreen rather than the voice commands, which seem to take forever (I admittedly could stand to better learn how the system works in order to streamline the process, but there's no incentive when I can do exactly what I want by punching virtual buttons on the screen).  I would love better integration with my phone - it just seems silly to have that nice big screen connected to my phone via Bluetooth and not even be able to access email or Google maps (I'm not a fan of the map/GPS software that's built in).