Last week, Ford invited TheVerge to its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, to unveil its groundbreaking in-car operating system featuring a jaw-dropping 48-inch curved display with crisp 4K graphics. This new system, built on the Android Automotive operating system, promises a unique blend of personalization, modularity, and connectivity, propelling Ford into the forefront of automotive innovation.
The most eye-catching feature is undoubtedly the massive 48-inch panoramic display, a bold move in what some call the era of “screen maximalism.” Joining the likes of Tesla, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, Ford is pushing the boundaries of in-car displays, despite concerns from safety experts about potential distractions for drivers.
However, the screen is more than just a visual spectacle. The real innovation lies in the personalization and modularity offered by Google’s native Android OS. The system recognizes the driver, adjusting settings accordingly, and allows users to configure interior displays to show as much or as little information as desired.
Ford’s journey to this cutting-edge system began almost three years ago when it announced the switch from its BlackBerry QNX-powered Sync to Google’s Android. The integration took longer than expected, with CEO Jim Farley conceding in 2022 that they were “months” behind schedule. Now, Ford asserts that the system is ready to roll, with the 2024 Lincoln Nautilus being the first to feature the new OS and panoramic display.
While the new system won’t carry the Sync brand, Ford assures customers that it has no immediate plans to phase out its in-house operating system. Individual vehicle teams will have discretion on the amount of screen real estate for their models, ensuring a tailored approach. The 48-inch display is not a one-size-fits-all solution; different Ford models may feature diverse screen configurations.
Breaking down the panoramic display, Ford organizes it into three sections: Critical, Supportive, and Glanceable. The Critical section, behind the steering wheel, displays typical gauge cluster information. The Supportive section features navigation and directions, while the Glanceable section offers customizable widgets for music, clock, and vehicle information.
Despite the impressive visuals, safety remains a top priority for Ford. The panoramic display is not a touchscreen, and all functions are controllable through an 11.1-inch center touchscreen, positioned below the windshield to minimize distractions. Doug Field, Ford’s Chief EV and Digital Design Officer, emphasizes the company’s structured approach to safety, with internal guidelines dictating what information is displayed to prevent distractions.
Ford’s next-gen Android-powered vehicles are set to offer a range of entertainment options, including video streaming and gaming. Demonstrations during the presentation showcased a racing game called Asphalt Nitro 2, with any Bluetooth-enabled video game controller compatible. These features, however, will only be available when the vehicle is parked, ensuring safety remains a priority.
Web browsing, through the Vivaldi browser initially and later through Google Chrome, will be available while parked. Video streaming apps like PBS Kids, YouTube, and Amazon Prime can be downloaded through the Google Play Store. Ford owners will soon be able to use various video conferencing apps—but only while parked.
Contrary to some rivals, Ford is not phasing out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The company is not only embracing these phone mirroring services but also making them more prominent. While using CarPlay, customers can project either Apple Maps or Google Maps onto the 48-inch panoramic screen for additional visibility. Ford’s EVs will also link with CarPlay or Android Auto to exchange information for better route planning.
As cars evolve into giant computers on wheels, automakers face challenges with software functionality. Laggy systems, software bugs, and unresponsive screens have become common issues. Ford acknowledges the industry-wide struggle and aims to stand out with a user-friendly design. While presenting its new digital interface, the company cited a JD Power survey, emphasizing that its software will be easier and more user-friendly than other systems.
Despite the move towards digital interfaces, Ford recognizes the importance of user-friendly controls. The article highlights Ford’s approach of combining teams responsible for physical and digital interfaces to reduce competition between designers. The company also analyzes anonymized data to understand customer interactions with screens, helping strike a balance between physical and digital controls based on user preferences.
Ford’s unveiling of its new in-car operating system signals a bold step into the future of automotive technology. The panoramic display, personalization features, and entertainment options showcase the company’s commitment to innovation. As Ford navigates the ever-evolving landscape of in-car technology, it remains focused on safety, user satisfaction, and the seamless integration of advanced features.