Ford Software Upgrade Doubles Down on Connectivity, Customer Satisfaction

3/7/12Follow @XconomyDET

Ford took another step on its journey toward becoming a mobile technology company on wheels with the release of a free MyFord Touch software upgrade to more than 300,000 existing customers. The upgrade is being mailed to MyFord Touch users in the form of a USB flash drive that contains the new software, detailed instructions for the 60-minute download, and an updated user guide. Customers who don’t want to perform the upgrade at home can have it done at their local dealership.

The upgrade is meant in part to appease customer complaints about MyFord Touch, which replaces the traditional knobs and buttons on the dashboard with a touch screen. According the April issue of Consumer Reports, Ford fell from fifth to tenth in last year’s scorecards—the largest drop of any automaker—thanks largely to the MyFord Touch system’s tendency to crash and distract drivers.

Jennifer Brace, a user interface engineer for Ford, says the upgrade enhances the touch-screen interface by cleaning up the graphics and enlarging the fonts, making the response time on the touch screen two to five times faster, adding capabilities that support tablet computers and audio books, and enhancing the navigational system with 3-D photo realistic views. “Basically, it’s faster, simpler, and overall easier to use,” she adds.

Brace says Ford and the Microsoft engineers who created the interface incorporated feedback from employees who are MyFord Touch users, market research from entities like JD Powers, and customer and dealer surveys into the upgraded software. They also convened a series of clinics with 100 customers at a time to see where they could make the biggest improvements. MyFord Touch technology is currently available in the Edge, Explorer, Focus, and Lincoln MKX models.

Sure, all these features are cool, but are they influencing what customers purchase? Ford says yes, claiming that 56 percent of buyers said in owner surveys that MyFord Touch and SYNC technology was a key factor in their purchase decision, so the customer-satisfaction stakes are high.

“As far as the technology goes, customers see the value,” Brace says. “And we’re excited to give our customers the ability to upgrade software at a rate that’s similar to consumer electronics.”

Another major Ford connectivity initiative got a push last month when the automaker announced that beta test kits of its open-source software research platform, OpenXC, was shipped out to developers and universities across across the world, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, MIT, and Stanford.

Developed with New York City-based Bug Labs, OpenXC enables developers to read data from the vehicle’s internal communications network and create plug and play hardware modules as well as software apps. T.J. Giuli, a Ford technical expert, says the goal is to provide an environment for developers to play and invent apps that Ford’s engineers wouldn’t think of—particularly those apps that are designed for niche markets or with a hyperlocal focus.

In September, when the OpenXC platform was first announced, Bug Labs’ founder and CEO Peter Semmelhack told Xconomy that the idea behind it is a crowd-sourced, bottom-up approach—and one that Ford hopes not only accelerates innovation, but caters to every nook and cranny of customer satisfaction.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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