A recent New York Times print advertisement for the Ford Edge crossover included barcodes that, when scanned by a mobile phone camera, provided readers with access to Times articles on style and technology. It’s part of a techy advertising campaign for the Edge, which will be the first vehicle to feature the likewise-techy MyFord Touch system. Touch is built around Ford’s existing Windows-based SYNC communications and entertainment system, and allows drivers to use the dashboard as... well, pretty much as a big smartphone.

Directly in front of the driver, the system presents two 4.2-inch LCD screens to either side of the speedometer, and iPod-like 5-way thumb controls on either side of the steering wheel bridge. On the center stack (the part of the dashboard that leads down to the shifter), there is an 8-inch LCD screen, button and dial controls, and inputs for SD cards, USB, and RCA plugs. This means that content from devices such as personal music players, smartphones and laptops can be played through the system, and passengers can use it to access the Internet.

The left of the smaller two screens displays typical dashboard information, such as the various engine gauges, trip meter and odometer. The right screen displays audio settings, climate control, hands-free phone controls and the navigation menu. Both of these screens can be reconfigured to show different data, depending on the driver's preference.

The larger center stack screen displays the same information as the right-hand screen, but does so in more detail, and allows for touchscreen control. It can also be customized to present the information and controls in different fashions, depending on whether drivers want to keep things simple, or like lots of widgets.

As with the basic SYNC system, most of the functions can be controlled with vocal commands. Touch reportedly has made the process more intuitive, while extending the number of functions that can be voice-controlled – the system can now recognize up to 10,000 words.

Needless to say, with all these things to look at, talk to and touch, one does have to wonder about driver distraction. The voice-control option is designed to allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road, although as with Bluetooth phone conversations, it could still be a mental distraction. Only time and crash statistics will tell.