COAL: 2013 Ford Focus – Software Update

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Technology has come a long way over the last ten years. Pretty much all of us carry around a cell phone with more capability than a computer from 2005, the same year YouTube went live and one year after Zuckerberg launched Facebook. Our cars have also adapted to these changes as well, and this year will mark the first (and certainly not last) time I can say that I personally updated the software in my car.


FORD Sync(TM) logo: Ford Sync(TM) allows consumers to operate nearly any mobile phone or digital media player using voice commands or the vehicle's steering wheel or radio controls. Pictured here are just some of the devices that can easily function inside of Ford vehicles equipped with Sync. (09/13/2007)


I noticed in the comments section of my post on the 2015 New York International Auto Show that some of you are completely against having some of this new tech in your cars. I can certainly understand your reservations, even if I disagree and enjoy having multiple entertainment options at my fingertips or on the tip of my tongue, in the form of voice commands.

For me, the benefits outweigh the costs. While having phone calls integrated into the car does have an annoyance factor and insures that you truly cannot disconnect from the outside world while driving, it does provide a measure of convenience, and prevents me from breaking the law.

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This helped me immensely the other day when I had to pick up a friend from the airport who insisted on texting me instead of calling my phone while I was on the way to get him. If not for this update, I would not have had the ability to hear his messages over the speakers and respond to them with pre-recorded responses. Fortunately everything worked out, despite me sending the wrong texts back to him (I sent “LOL” when he asked me how far away I was from the terminal), but since the texts themselves are sent with a “sent from my Ford” signature he figured out what was going on. Once I picked him up, I had him text me George Carlin’s “Seven Things You Can’t Say on TV” to see if the car would read it back. To much hilarity, it did, or rather “she” did, because SYNC’s voice is a very Siri-esque female. So fellow SYNC owners should note that the system does not mince words in any capacity, with great results. It was a nice to have a whole new section of phone capabilities opened up to me that I previously couldn’t access.

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Now a lot of the chatter about electronic devices and car integration have focused on the phone, but to me the most important feature I use in my Focus relates to music. That is why you see a 4th gen Ipod Touch 64gb residing in my center console. Its my go to source for music entertainment and allows me to download and listen to podcasts as well, with no consequence to battery life since its plugged in to the USB port. The biggest advantage the Ford system has over competitors is that the system can accept voice commands that allow you to select an individual artist, song, album, or playlist, which goes beyond the capabilities from manufacturers like Volkswagen, which can only do basic commands like “play,” “next track,” or “shuffle.”

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So if you’re an audiophile that likes having just as much control over your music with voice commands as you would physically scrolling through the player itself, I would highly suggest you check out the SYNC system if you’re in the market for a new car. If I get a change of heart and want to switch from playing The Beatles to The Kinks, I can simply say “USB” then “play artist The Kinks” or “play album Village Green Preservation Society” if I so desire. It works quickly and the commands are  interpreted correctly as long as you don’t mumble. If you’re driving, being able to switch music without looking at the player itself is an absolute godsend.

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Back to the update. Aside from updating the software to work with newer phones in regards to text messaging capabilities, it also tweaked the software to work better with Ipods (and presumably Iphones that can essentially function as Ipods if desired). Voice commands seem to work faster and are more accurate now. And I swear the playback quality has improved for better sound. Another interesting aspect of this update was the change to how your song and artist are displayed on the screen itself. If you look at the above picture, you can see that the song and artist are simply shown, along with time elapsed. Previously you would see SO for song and AR for artist, so in the picture above the information would read SO: Junior’s Farm and AR: Paul McCartney. This new change makes for a much cleaner display and is most welcome.

905116_p_fd8gatt03_ge_1Now I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how updating the software works. Basically, you need to create an account on the Ford Owner website, and also have a USB flash drive with at least 2gb of storage free. I used the same exact model as the one pictured above and everything worked out fine. User Asreal made a fantastic post regarding the installation on which I’ll link to here.  There are many steps to installing the software in your car that are followed on that link, but afterwards you should be able to successfully install SYNC 4.4.

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I just realized I never explained my feelings before doing the update. If I told you I was calm, I’d be lying. With the flash drive inserted into the USB port, I started the installation process and waited in the drivers seat, basically staring at the screen you see above for about twenty minutes while the system did its thing on the other LCD display, which at one time went black in order to reboot. Not exactly confidence inspiring, but my patience paid off and everything went well. There was no catastrophic system failure like I was picturing in my head, and all I had to do was idle my car for a little bit longer than I normally would, since the update requires your car to be running. That is why you see the 24.8 average for that tank of gas – turns out that installing and playing around with the tech goodies of your car uses a bit of gas!

On top of everything else, SYNC Applink, Ford’s fancy name for letting developers integrate their projects into the system, works better than ever before. So good, in fact, that I may partially abandon my Ipod and start using my phone to put Spotify on (in?) my stereo. At the time of this writing I just got back from running an errand and decided to use Spotify the entire time I was in the car. Success! The car and phone were friendly with each other, and I was able to listen to a playlist I created on my computer just before getting behind the wheel. It seems looks like Spotify Premium gives you much more freedom than that, but for now I’m happy with the free version. All in all, it was, and continues to be, a good experience. I’m happy Ford lets third party developers work with them, otherwise it could have been very possible to own a car that felt technologically out of date.

I’ve no doubt intrigued some of you, and sent the others to craigslist in order to buy a bona fide CC that contains nothing like SYNC. To each their own, as they say. Anyway, if you’re a Ford owner and have any questions about the update process, leave a comment and I’ll try to help you. Otherwise, I’ll be enjoying all this technology until the day Skynet inevitably rises up and enslaves us all.