Ford's Microsoft powered, but iPhone-friendly voice recognition system (SYNC) and app developer environment (AppLink) are expanding to Asia Pacific and Africa after its original launch in North America. The Ford Focus will be spearheading the expansion in Taiwan, and will include both English and Mandarin recognition. SYNC's European launch is also kicking off this year.
We've already seen how on its own SYNC can enable hands-free calling and text messaging, but the really cool stuff happens with AppLink, were iOS developers hook into the car system to tailor their own voice commands when the iPhone or iPad is paired up to the vehicle over Bluetooth. There's a button on the steering wheel to initiate queries, and the dashboard touchscreen unit on newer models offers a bit more functionality. AppLink is still something of a developer playground, but the results are promising; recently, Facebook had a hackathon with Ford where they cooked up an app called "Just Play", which would scan your friends list to see what they're listening to on Spotify, and automatically build a playlist to pump out to the car stereo system.
Although all of the major car manufacturers have some kind of tie-in with smartphones now, I've found that Ford's AppLink environment has so far shown the most promise. Giving developers the tools to plug into a car really opens up the possibilities for new kinds of apps and expands the utility of anything dealing in navigation, music, and local search. My only qualm is that it's taking a long time for app partners to come to the fore - Pandora and Stitcher have been available from the get-go, and since then, Slacker Radio, iheartRadio, TuneIn Radio, NPR News, and Scout by Telenav have been included.
What kind of car are you driving? Are you interested in having one that plays nice with your iOS devices, or are you worried that even with the hands-free system it would be too much of a distraction? You can find more information about the system over here.