Have you seen the commercials from Ford and GM touting their in-car systems?  I always thought that Ford’s Sync and GM’s OnStar systems were the same until we recently decided to purchase a new vehicle and I was forced to do some research.  The two systems, while offering similar features, differ in technology.

Ford partnered with Microsoft to create Ford Sync, an in-car entertainment and security system which allows you to control your media player and cellular phone; get turn-by-turn directions; search for businesses; get news and weather; and navigation assistance.  It can also provide a vehicle health report, automatically call 911 if the airbags deploy in the vehicle, and read received text messages aloud.

General Motors offers the OnStar service through its wholly owned subsidiary.  Like Sync, it provides you with a vehicle health report and offers turn-by-turn directions, business search, and emergency assistance when involved in an accident.  It also provides remote door unlocking, and the ability to make restaurant reservations.

The systems provide similar features for safety and security, however Sync adds an entertainment layer to round out the experience, allowing you to a USB Drive or media player and access individual songs, albums, artists, and playlists.  There are further differences.  It can even play similar music.

The technology used on the “service” side of the in-car systems is different as well.  The Sync system uses voice response systems to provide the information you request (except for 911 dialing/assistance), while the OnStar system connects you to a live agent (they call them advisors).

Finally, the systems differ in how they communicate with their “mother ship.”  Sync uses a Bluetooth paired cellular phone provided by the occupants in the vehicle, while OnStar has a integrated cellular phone radio.  Using a Bluetooth paired cellular phone provides flexibility as technology changes, however the OnStar integrated cellular phone radio provides a more seamless experience across vehicles.

The two systems provide similar features, use different cellular phone technology, and make the automobile experience safer…they’re definitely worth researching the next time you buy a new or used vehicle.  Because of the media functionality in Sync, it appears to have the edge.