Google details its Android Auto plan

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
08 Jul 2014

Google has unveiled Android Auto at its I/O conference. The software will allow a user to plug their Android handset into a car to control both the car and phone. In addition, the Open Automotive Alliance added 40 new members to its ranks, as they cooperate on bringing Android to the connected car. The first Android Auto cars are scheduled to launch by the end of the year.

The project will allow a user to plug in their Android phone to a cable in the car and then navigate the phone using a combination of voice, touchscreen and physical knobs and buttons. The main aim is to provide the functionality of the phone without the dangerous and distracting motion of looking down at a device to control it, and to that end Android Auto will disable text-heavy and video-based content when the car is on the move. While plugged in, the phone is locked and doesn’t accept user input, simply displaying the Android logo.

Consequently, Google has decided that there will be strict layouts that must be adhered to in Android Auto. This means that apps can change the look of their buttons and logos but cannot deviate from the layout of the template that dictates where the touch-screen’s buttons will be located. This is to ensure that the least amount of time possible is spent looking at the controls for an app so that users can remain focused on the road – time limits that are currently mandated by the OEMs.

We’ve previously reported that BlackBerry’s QNX operating system currently enjoys over 50% of the market for in-vehicle infotainment systems (IVI), but the approach seen by Google and Apple is notably different. In the former, the car is an independent system, while in the latter the car is effectively empowered by the phone – acting as an extension of the user interface rather than a central intelligence. However, Audi reports that its QNX based Multimedia Interface (MMI) system coexists quite happily with Android Auto, so interoperability should prevent difficult buyer decisions in showrooms.

For automotive OEMs, this device-centric approach removes the onus from them to develop their own systems. Deferring to a handset allows the manufacturer to simply add the necessary I/O features to their cars and let the customer decide how to use them – an extension of the dumb-screen/smart-box argument found in the television sphere. All that would be needed based on the features announced so far is a display with manual controls or a touchscreen, integration for microphone input and audio output over the car’s speakers, and lastly the all-important bridge between car and device – a simple cable. In this regard, GM has said it is quite straightforward to build its Chevrolet Spark to accommodate both platforms.

The native systems in the car such as the radio and climate controls will not fall under the control of Apple and Google. Those systems will be left in the hands of the OEMs because the car still needs to be functional if a phone is never plugged into it.

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