Ford announces voice assistance to be standard with SYNC

Ford has announced that live operator assistance is to become a standard feature on its SYNC telematics system.

The US automaker confirmed September 20 that Live Operator, a service which connects drivers to operators who can help them get directions or find business addresses, will be available for all users of the SYNC system.

The move follows a short trial of Live Operator for select users over the summer, and will bring Ford in line with competitor General Motors, which has built its premium OnStar product around the ability to connect with live people.

Customers using SYNC, which provides visual and spoken information to North American drivers on everything from news to horoscopes via an internet connection, will be able to say the word 'Operator' to prompt their car to dial the service center for them.

Unlike most other SYNC services, Live Operator will be chargeable, although new customers buying a vehicle will receive 60 complimentary sessions and those who bought within the last three years will receive a pro-rata'd number.

Using a web interface, all other drivers will be able to pay for an annual subscription for $60 or buy a prepaid number of sessions to use.

Ford's decision is a telling addition to its telematics range - it has focused heavily on computer-based services and was stung by criticism earlier this year that its SYNC product had become too confusing.

Now, the automaker will directly compete with OnStar, which has allowed live assistance to drive the telematics systems found in General Motors brands such as Chevrolet and Buick, only recently adding more software services and apps.

The SYNC system is due to launch in Europe next year, although it is unknown whether Live Operator will also debut.