By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Dec 19, 2007 at 5:17 AM Photography: Jeff Sherman

Sync, Ford's new joint venue with Microsoft, should be standard and possibly mandatory on all new vehicles. Come to think of it, it should be immediately installed on all automobiles. But, for now it's available on only 12 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, including the new Ford Edge.

More than 30 automotive brands worldwide offer optional or standard Bluetooth-enabled communications systems in their new models. The popular Acura TL offers Bluetooth wireless technology as part of its standard HandsFreeLink and many other systems are available, too. But, Sync is a bit different. There are no devices that need to plug into a cigarette lighter jack. No speakers to install, and little to no hassle.

So, what is Sync? It's an easy way to, you guessed it, synchronize your devices for remote and hands free access while driving (or just sitting in your car). Plus, it's a voice-activated mobile phone and digital music system in a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury.

"Sync is a fully integrated, voice activated car communications system. It links both (cell) phone and digital music players. The focus is to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road," said Amy Lunde, who helped demonstrate the system.

With states and cities banning mobile phone use in cars and mandating the use of headsets or other hands free devices, Sync is a safety feature that makes it easy to hook up your phone whether it's a Razr, iphone, Blackberry or whatever. You just need a Bluetooth-enabled device.

Sync is easy to use, and thanks to Soerens Ford I sampled it recently. I just turned on my Blackberry's Bluetooth, let it find the system and boom I was good go. I said, "phone" and from my address book (that Sync automatically downloaded) I was chatting hands-free in moments. I tried, "mom's cell" and it connected instantly. It was easy to dial friends and colleagues by issuing voice commands like "dial"

If your Bluetooth phone is also a music player, you can ask Sync for a favorite song by name. An iPod also works well with Sync. Its voice commands function interacts with your iPod or other devices when plugged into the car's USB jack. Even if you don't have a mp3 player, you can load your mp3s onto a flash drive and play the tunes that way.

What else can Sync do? GPS, of course, so there's full mapping. And even though the reading of text messages is cool (yes, it reads text messages on most phones) it isn't as widely supported as it could be (it didn't work with my Blackberry). But, this feature is unique, useful and safe since it offers several standard responses that are activated with the touch of the screen. Thus, you won't be tempted to text and drive.

I'd like to see rearview mirror displays with caller ID information and, wow, I'd love to ultimately be able to load video for back seat drivers and even remotely tap into things like TIVO. Microsoft and Ford assure that the system will continue to evolve and innovate to meet these and other demands. So, yes, the software is scalable and new versions will be rolled out.

It's somewhat sad that it doesn't read e-mail. But, for now Sync is pretty darn cool and easy enough for even my dad to use. Not sure, though, if it's cool enough for me to buy a Ford but maybe "the nice guys" at Soerens Ford can work me over.

Hopefully, the marketplace won't confuse Sync with safety systems like OnStar and I don't want to see Ford position this as an option only for young drivers. This is basic stuff that truly all cars should have if we are going to make dialing and driving somewhat "safe."

Already, the editors of Popular Science magazine have named it as one of the best new technologies of the year and it received a 2007 "Best of What's New" award in the automotive category.

Finally, I bet you are wondering about the cost. On models where Sync is optional, it's priced at only $395. Much less than what I and others in the office expected. In fact, when asked to guess the price of this system, two office mates guessed $1,000 and $2,000. So, for $395, if you have a new Ford, Sync is an absolute no-brainer.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.