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Goodbye, MyFord Touch; Hello, Sync 3

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MyFord Touch, maligned for its unintuitive touch-sensitive buttons, tiny touch-screen icons and overall lag, will finally head into the sunset. This is exactly 1,800 days since we first reported on the system, which appeared in the restyled 2011 Ford Edge and its 2011 Lincoln MKX sibling.

Related: 2015 Ford Fusion Review

Four years, 11 months and 5 days later, meet Sync 3. The third generation of Ford’s Sync system (the automaker already markets Sync 2 in Europe), Sync 3 promises conversational voice recognition, less complexity, smartphone-like pinch and swipe touch-screen motions, better app integration and over-the-air updates through home WiFi networks, according to Ford.

The system arrives in cars next year, and it won’t require a full redesign. It’s the same size as MyFord Touch, Ford spokesman Alan Hall told us.

Hall confirmed that Sync 3 would also migrate to Lincoln vehicles, replacing MyLincoln Touch. Though the automaker showed the system in the dashboard of a current-gen Fusion, it won’t be backward-compatible, Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer told us, because it’s “new software and hardware.” That means if you own a Ford with MyFord Touch, it will stay that way.

Sync 3 eschews MyFord Touch’s quadrant layout for a more conventional menu grid with large floating icons, much like many competitors’ multimedia systems. Ford says it has three core zones: navigation, audio and phone. Presumably, MyFord Touch’s fourth quadrant, climate, has been banished to the physical buttons below the screen. Sync 3 will have shortcut buttons along the bottom of the screen, Ford promised. Sync AppLink automatically syncs compatible apps from your connected smartphone to the system, and IHS senior tech analyst Mark Boyadjis estimated there are “60-plus” apps available. Sync’s 911-assist feature, which automatically dials for help from a Bluetooth-linked phone if you’re in an accident, now relays more information to emergency responders: the type of crash, for example, as well as which airbags deployed and who wore a seat belt.

Rather than Microsoft, which was responsible for much of MyFord Touch’s operating system, Boyadjis said Sync 3 comes from multimedia giant QNX — responsible for platforms like Chrysler’s Uconnect, as well as systems from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

That bodes well for the system. At an unveiling in Dearborn, Mich., Cars.com Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman had a chance to see Sync 3 in action. He said it appears to fuse the best parts of rival systems like Cadillac User Experience and Chrysler Uconnect but appears “faster, smoother and simpler than any of them.” It’s “highly visible, easy to read, [with] nice big, clear icons,” Bragman said, and it “switches screens and processes functions faster than any system I’ve seen, except perhaps Audi MMI.”

What a difference from MyFord Touch, which was problematic even after Ford returned physical buttons and knobs in cars like the Focus and F-Series and they reappeared in recent introductions and redesigns. The system was blamed for poor reliability among Ford and Lincoln vehicles from Consumer Reports reliability rankings to J.D. Power and Associates’ Initial Quality Study. We weren’t surprised, given MyFord Touch has shut down and rebooted on us more than once.

Another big differentiator: Sync 3 can receive over-the-air updates. But it does so through owners’ home WiFi networks rather than an embedded modem like Audi and Tesla use, Boyadjis notes.

The updates “allow Sync 3 to connect up with your home WiFi network, provided you get a signal in your garage,” he said. “You say accept [the updates] and lock the car, go in and have your coffee, et cetera, and the next morning you have your update. And frankly it’s not going to take the [full] 12 hours.”

Specifically, the system checks for updates “several times a month while it’s parked and you’re not in it,” Ford’s Hall said. “If I bought a car and I’m at home and I input my [WiFi] password to the Sync system … it will ping it several times a month to see if there are updates available, and it will download [the updates] on its own.”

What if you don’t park your car within home WiFi range? You could still go to a dealer and have the updates installed or do so by USB connection, Hall said, or you could go somewhere with a WiFi signal in the parking lot, like a coffee shop.

The on-air updates are a big shift from MyFord Touch, whose updates required the automaker to ship out hundreds of thousands of USBs, which owners then had to plug into their cars and wait 45 minutes to update, Boyadjis added.

“They spent 18 months on this, and I think it shows,” he said. “I don’t believe anyone is going to look at that system and think of it as very flashy, very ‘wow-factor’ as far as [a] feature-rich infotainment system. But what Ford wants is for their customers to look at it as incredibly easy to use.”

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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