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The Ford Motor Co. is introducing the first vehicles with Microsoft’s Sync software, which allows a car to connect to a variety of Bluetooth and USB devices, including PDAs, smart phones, music players and cell phones.

Sync, which is based on the automotive version of Windows Mobile, can work with voice recognition or steering-wheel-based controls. Introduced at the Detroit Auto Show Jan. 8, initially it will be included in 12 vehicle lines from Ford, Lincoln and Mercury this fall.

“Normally features like this are introduced into luxury vehicles first and then migrate to volume brands in later years,” said Kevin Keling, marketing strategy manager for the Ford brand. “But with us, our brand DNA has always been that we will bring people what they want at an affordable price. We are launching in the fall on our 2008 models.”

As it’s installed in the new Fords, Sync supports Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune music players, as well as PlaysForSure players and music contained on USB thumb drives. It will synchronize with Bluetooth-capable phones and use the call lists contained in the phones.

It will also use any specialized ring tones on the phones, including caller-specific rings or ring tones. Keling told eWEEK, however, that e-mail capability and gaming will not be available with Sync. “I wouldn’t want someone driving next to me who’s doubling down,” he said.

The voice recognition system will control attached phones, as well as attached music players, even to the extent of recognizing song names.

In addition, the speech system will read text messages aloud, and it can provide replies from a list of 20 standard replies. The text message capabilities will even recognize common acronyms such as “LOL” and “BFF.”

For a look at how Ford and Microsoft work together, take a look at these videos: Sync My Ride and Microsoft Makes Love to Ford, Spawns N’Sync.

According to Keling, the Sync software can be upgraded as new devices become available. Sync displays relevant information, including song titles, caller ID data, phone book entries and phone operation information on a dashboard display. “It will function with all of our radio systems,” Keling said. “It will work with our base radios. They will have a single-line display, and our navigation systems will have a full screen.

“From a brand perspective, it’s demonstrating that Ford is building on our platform of American innovation,” Keling said. “It’s delivering on our brand DNA. There are a lot of personalization features we’re bringing.”

Ford is making sure that everything works as it should with iPods, in some cases with added capabilities, like a voice command to tell your iPod to play music similar to what you’re already listening to, or to use a variety of shuffle commands, according to Keling. “We also have a relationship with Apple so people can play protected content. We have the ability to play that through a USB connection,” he said.

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