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What Radio Looks Like on Ford’s New Sync 3 for 2016


Never let it be said that the automakers don’t listen to feedback, because when it comes to Ford’s clunky Sync platform, they got an earful.

And guess what? Ford responded.

This week the automaker introduced the latest and greatest version of its Sync infotainment system, and it looks great. It will make its debut on at least some Ford 2016 models, meaning it will be in the showroom in the fall of 2015, just months from now.

The primary value proposition of the platform has less to do with entertainment than it has to do with all the other problems faced by drivers as you can see in this video from Consumer Reports.

But I don’t want to focus on the entire feature set of the platform. I’m interested only in how it handles audio or – more precisely – how it redefines “radio” to be part of a larger platform called “audio” (a redefinition more broadcasters should absorb, if you ask me).

Watch this very short video and you’ll see a Ford representative demonstrate Pandora on the platform. And you’ll see where Pandora and other apps sit relative to AM and FM.

Two observations:

  1. Whatever audio is running becomes the “default audio source.” So when you press the “audio” button it’s all about whatever’s running. Thus there’s no “choice” to be made at the point of selecting “audio” unless you want to make a choice different from the default one. This is a better user experience, but one that creates momentum for whatever app or service is “already running.”

  2. To paraphrase the Ford employee, “another great thing about the system” is that media apps (e.g., Pandora, Spotify, etc.) will show up on the menu “right alongside” FM and AM and SiriusXM.

That “equal treatment” is precisely what the user wants – equal access to whatever they want however they want it.

That “equal treatment” will also elevate the status of apps which were previously unused or little used in the car to rival the familiar “apps” called FM and AM. And that elevation will increase usage – dramatically. And that usage will come from the previously habitual apps which occupied the greatest share of in-car listening, namely: Terrestrial radio.

So here are a few realities that need to be recognized:

  1. “FM” and “AM” used to be the entire infotainment system. Increasingly, they are “apps” like any other entertainment apps.

  2. The usage for “FM” and “AM” will naturally be cannibalized by other “equal” apps with similar or different value propositions. Since this is what the consumer wants, there is nothing you can do about this.

  3. Some of that cannibalization will be by radio “apps” which are not “FM” or “AM” – namely, aggregator apps like TuneIn or IHeartRadio, among others. So some of what a station loses in one app it stands to gain in another.

  4. Over the long run it will take more than habit to keep listeners glued to their heritage “apps” called “FM” and “AM.” It will take the promise of an experience uniquely compelling – one so good it can’t be routed around or reconstructed on other platforms. I continue to believe that this means an experience in content which is unmatchable.

  5. Sync 3 and other platforms of this type are an enormous gift to online radio apps like Spotify and Pandora.

I still don’t get all this fretting about the new dashboard. The future is playing out in a manner that is actually more predictable than most technologically-enabled futures. Here it comes, right on schedule!

If your brand is to attract attention and usage on a crowded dashboard packed with shiny baubles and new value propositions, then you had better create the kind of audio experience only radio can be famous for: A unique and compelling content experience that strives to be spectacular.

Start thinking out of the box. Look to talent. Get out your checkbook.

No longer will there be any shortcuts or shoestring successes.

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