Following the announcement of its Open Automotive Alliance back in January, Google has used its annual I/O conference to unveil plans for its next step in world dominance: Android Auto.
Like Apple’s CarPlay, Android Auto relies on you bringing your own smartphone (an Android handset, naturally) and the bigger screen built into the dashboard relays information such as maps and guidance, plus your music library and information from Google Now and other apps. As well as having much larger buttons for easy operation, Android Auto is also voice controlled.
That’s hardly a new development for car tech, but it means you’ll be able to keep your hands on the wheel while choosing a new album or track; enter a destination for the satnav, reply to text messages and emails (which can be read aloud as they arrive) or make a phone call to a contact in your address book. Basically all the stuff you would want to do while driving.
Android Auto runs on your smartphone; indeed it is deeply rooted in the upcoming version of Android (the as-yet unnamed version of the OS, it could be Lollipop) which will be released in the autumn. Cars which support Android Auto are slated to go on sale “before the year end”.
When shown on the in-car display, a simplified interface is used to make it less distracting, since one of Google’s primary aims is to make it much safer to use tech in cars, reducing the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers.
Auto is rather like Google Now, being “contextually aware” of when you’re in the car or not and giving you the information you want when you need it via ‘cards’ – just as you get with Google Now. Cards will be based on a variety of factors, including what Google Now already knows about you, the time, your location and more.
So, if you always leave for work at 8am, Android Auto will automatically show a shortcut to navigate to your workplace and provide any other information such as delays caused by heavy traffic. No need to even bring up the list of recent or favourite destinations. Just tap the card and go.
Since navigation is based on Google Maps, you can tell Android Auto to find your nearest Halfords, say, and it will direct you there. There are no limitations on points of interest as with a traditional offline satnav.
A taskbar along the bottom has icons so you can switch between navigation, phone calls, music and other tasks.
Google says 40 car manufacturers are signed up to the Open Automotive Alliance, with new members including Bentley, Nissan, Renault, Volkswagen and Volvo. Being a member doesn't mean you have to launch a car with Android Auto, however.
Google also said that the the SDK (software development kit) for Android Auto, along with a full set of APIs for audio and messaging apps, is in the works to developers soon. This means that when Android L is released later this year, you should have a decent choice of apps to use alongside the standard Google ones, no doubt including Spotify.
Will you have to go out and buy a brand new car, though? Fortunately not. As with CarPlay, aftermarket infotainment makers including Alpine, Clarion, JVC, Kenwood, LG, Pioneer and Panasonic. are members of the OAA and may well be offering Android Auto versions which you’ll be able to install in your current car. Even if they cost £500 or more, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new car.
Google's director of engineering, Patrick Brady, said "It looks and feels like it's part of the car, but all of the apps are running on the phone. This makes it a personalised experience."
Google announced that the Android Auto SDK . Android Auto is set to be released later this year.