Google I/O today was all about unifying the Android experience while bringing it (and Google’s services) to as many form factors as possible. Smartwatches running Android Wear were expected and Google TV was remade as Android TV, but more ambitious was Google’s reveal of Android Auto. The Android Auto software is Google’s replacement for most car’s entertainment/navigation systems and answer to Apple’s CarPlay, and has the potential to be the beautiful and intuitive in-car information system that most vehicles have been lacking.
Naturally, Android Auto requires both an Android device and a compatible in-car system, as the software actually runs on the smartphone which will essentially cast the display to the compatible media console. Once Android Auto is running, the car’s console will display a vehicle-oriented version of the new Android L interface, designed to be controlled by Google’s already impressive voice controls. Of course, much of the information you need may already be there without even having to ask for it, because like Google Now the Auto software is contextually aware and can present frequently used driving directions, placed calls, or restaurant recommendations.
The headline features of Android Auto include seamless Google Maps, Google Play Music, and Google Voice Search integration, all services already optimized for the card-based voice controlled interface of the software and which you would expect from any modern vehicle information system. Still, it isn’t necessarily that Google has done something new, just that they may have done it better. Almost taking a page from Apple’s book, Google has taken services which already exist in vehicle information systems such as navigation, music control, and voice actions and basic smartphone integration, and combined them into a single attractive package.
If it works as advertised, Android Auto should be vastly superior to the current smartphone integration offerings such as Ford Sync, and has the potential to get even better. This is because Android Auto has an SDK for music and messaging apps, meaning that it should only gain features as compatible apps are added to the list that already includes Spotify, Pandora, Pocket Casts, and the MLB At Bat app to name just a few. Not only that, updates to hardware and software will be easy as the entire system is smartphone-based, meaning that a new smartphone will improve performance and updates need only be downloaded to your smartphone and not tediously installed on your car.
Google already has forty manufacturers supposedly in line as part of the Open Automotive Alliance to make Android Auto compatible vehicles, and says that the first vehicles should be out by the end of this year. Certainly, this will be something for new car buyers to consider, but I’m more interested personally in third-party Android Auto hardware that can be installed in older vehicles. Several companies already offer head units for older vehicles with Apple’s CarPlay, so it seems plausible that Android Auto head units should be an option too.
As a big fan the original “Android Auto” setup and not a fan of buying new cars, I’m going to be waiting for the standalone units. However, it will be interesting to see how much this influences consumer’s car buying going forward, so if you are going to look into Android Auto when buying your next car, let us know in the comments.[Google | CNET]