Why I’ll never buy another Ford – The answer may surprise you

I’ve been a “Ford guy” for a long time (20 years), and being a technology guy (even longer), I’ve made a living off of Microsoft as an MCSE. When I bought my Ford Escape back in April 2009, I was so excited to have Microsoft Sync. But after a little over a year, I have to say I really wish I hadn’t. I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while, but decided to get past the emotion surrounding my frustration with the system and Ford that I’m reminded of every time I drive. It never ceases to amaze me how strong emotions are around our rides. Now I finally feel I can focus on the details and not the emotions.

A little history

I started off using Sync with my 30gb iPod photo. It was AWESOME. I could have a wide variety of music on an iPod I could leave in the car all the time. Because it was 30gb, I felt that I had everything I needed right at the tips of my fingers. I also had an iPod Touch and an iPhone 3G that I could swap in if I wanted to do things like listen to an Audiobook or a Podcast. There were some limitations though, such as that playlists didn’t work. Being somewhat of a geek, I went exploring, looking for answers, patches, etc, but really not finding any. What was interesting though, was according to the Ford site, the iPod photo wasn’t supposed to work at all. The site said I needed an AUX cable that plugged into the “Line in” port on the Escape, which of course is an additional expense.

One day, my iPod photo just stopped playing on the sync. Nothing changed mind you; It didn’t stop working, I could play music stand-alone or through my Bose Sounddock without issue. I tried everything, resetting the device, reformatting, etc. without success.

It was about that time that Ford/Microsoft released an update to the Sync software. Version 2.1 of the software. I thought, “Good, this can fix all of those annoying little problems” and should make it so my iPod photo works again. The release notes were nondescript so I had a little trepidation, not knowing what exactly changes, but I went ahead and upgraded to version 2.1 of the software.

The Upgrade

The update process is rather benign except that I had difficulties using Firefox. This didn’t really surprise me, but I was finally able to get the update onto a memory stick. You take the stick, plug it into your car when it’s on, and walk away.

The first thing I did after the upgrade, is plug in the iPod Photo. Waiting..waiting…”Unrecognized device”. After several attempts, I was disappointed, but not dismayed, because I can just use my iPod Touch Gen 1. I plugged that in, and Sync recognized it and started indexing the music. About 15 minutes later, got the typical “Sync could not index all of the music on your device…” This was expected since some of my songs have holes in the track information. After driving around a bit, I stopped to run into a store. Upon returning, and starting the car, I hear “Sync has detected a new device”. I was puzzled, but still felt this was an anomaly, but how wrong I was.

After hearing this for a couple of days every time I started the car, I went to see if anyone had similar experiences. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The first thing I did was e-mail Ford/Sync support trying to understand why an upgrade would actually make it so my iPod photo would no longer work, and also what the deal was with the touch.

Ford’s Response

The response from Ford was that it never was supposed to work on the iPod photo, so in their minds, there was no problem there, and on the touch, the response was:

“We apologize for the difficulty you have experienced with the use of the iPod Touch with SYNC. The issue you noted (long indexing times) was introduced with the 3.0 firmware upgrade from Apple. This is a concern that we have brought to the attention of Apple, and we are anxiously awaiting a firmware update to correct it. Ford is working with Apple to get this issue tested and resolved. Unfortunately, we do not have access to their software release schedule to know if it will be addressed in their next update.”

They also suggested that I hook my Touch up via AUX Cable (like my iPod Photo), which basically removes any iPod integration at all. Not an acceptable answer in my book.

Taking Responsibility

The question I ultimately had was “How long do you wait for someone else to fix your problem?” As a customer of both Ford and Apple, I felt that I was mad at Ford, and just mildly annoyed at Apple. Being in the technology field, finger-pointing with interfaces was not new to me, but as a consumer, I was unprepared for it. My expectation is that Ford cannot control what Apple does. Since Ford is trying to tap into the Apple ecosystem around the iPod, it is Ford’s responsibility to keep its product working with the various changes that are introduced in the iPod line. This is going to be the single biggest long-term challenge for Ford.

At what point does Apple not fixing the problem make Ford realize that they are the ones that look bad here?

No Going Back

One of the things that surprised me most about Sync is that you cannot downgrade the system. I didn’t find this out until all the problems started happening and I e-mailed Sync Support. Now I’m totally stuck on a version of Sync that doesn’t meet my needs or expectations.

Enter iOS 4

When Apple announced iOS 4, I had some hope that this problem was finally going to end. But, it only continued to get worse. Since my iPod touch was a “Gen 1”, it cannot be upgraded. I’m stuck on Firmware 3.1.3. It’s unlikely that this will ever be resolved unless I scrap another perfectly good iPod.

Stick to selling Cars

What is clear, is that Ford doesn’t understand the personal technology market. Unless it can keep up with the changing landscape and not abandon existing customers, I suggest that they stick to designing and selling cars. Short of buying a new iPod, I have no options to get back any functionality, and instead, have my most expensive iPod accessory that can’t reliably play my iPod.

I see by announcements that they are releasing new versions of Sync with more capabilities for 2011, but unless I’m looking to buy a new Ford, I’m out of luck since there is no upgrade path for the previous year’s models. I hate to say that this has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I will not buy another Ford. But like the Brady Bunch episode where Greg buys a used car; Caveat Emptor.

Have a similar experience, please share as I’d love to hear them.

Be sure to read my follow-up piece after talking to Ford about this  issue: Ford’s SocialCRM – Follow up to Sync issues

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