Two weeks ago I received a pleasant surprise in my e-mail inbox. Apple announced that the iTunes Store is finally giving our country access to music and movies that used to be exclusive to certain markets only. I immediately checked the iTunes Store and, true enough, instead of just apps, new tabs for music and movies were available for browsing and purchase—so browse I did. Prices weren’t bad. Some songs went for US$0.69 and some for US$0.99, with the most expensive individual songs going for US$1.29. In the end I chose what was—and still is—at the top of the iTunes music charts. Not bad for P30. What can I say? Something about the sight of dancing varsity girls made the song stick inside my head. Around the same time I was able to get behind the wheel of the new Ford Explorer. It’s a marvelous SUV; big, brawny and beautifully designed. But inside I also noticed it had the latest version of SYNC, the software designed by Microsoft to manage the multimedia, navigation and mobile-phone integration of Ford vehicles. Now I’ve driven a Ford SUV with SYNC technology before, and frankly I couldn’t even get it to play songs from my iPod. So I was a bit hesitant to try it again. But the button to connect a phone on the Explorer’s multimedia display beckoned, and because I’m a sucker for trying out new tech, I decided to link my iPhone via Bluetooth. After the usual process of connecting, my phone was paired to the SYNC system. At this point I knew making hands-free calls was a given, but what intrigued me was something I’ve never been able to do with a car before: music streaming via Bluetooth. I tried it with the Ford Fiesta in the past, and I don’t remember being able to make it work. I chose Bluetooth audio in the options for audio sources, and when I played my new song purchase it worked! A blue icon now appeared on the right of my iPhone's music program, just after the skip-to-the-next-track button. This indicated that a Bluetooth link was active. I could even go to the next song or adjust the volume through the Explorer’s steering wheel buttons. Unlike some systems that totally take over the iPod/iPhone and restrict your access to Apple’s intuitive menu, you can still control your Apple device directly on its screen. Of course because a Bluetooth signal doesn’t carry as much data as a straight cable connection, music quality isn’t the same, but to be honest I didn’t notice any difference in sound clarity—even at high volumes. Sometimes right after starting the SUV and turning on the audio system, the music stutters as the Bluetooth link stabilizes itself. But it only lasts for a few seconds, not even a minute. When a call comes in, the music automatically lowers then is put on pause while you take the call. Once the call is terminated, the music resumes. It’s a seamless experience that makes audio playback and making/receiving calls on the Ford very convenient. According to Ford’s US website, the SYNC program can do more than what I just did. It can listen to audio commands, call 911, and navigate using GPS. But I didn’t fiddle with the Explorer’s SYNC functions anymore to see what other things it can do (navigation is certainly not on the menu). The design of the software layout was still too confusing to encourage *ahem* exploration. This was still a Microsoft product after all. But for what SYNC showed that it was capable of, I’m already more than satisfied. And based on the new features we’re seeing on the new Focus, it looks like Ford is set on implementing and refining SYNC across its product range. That’s certainly a promising sign.
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