Android Auto Has Arrived

At Google’s I/O developer conference Android’s long awaited automotive smartphone integration solution was presented under the somewhat unimaginative Android Auto label (and different from the anticipated Projected Mode working name). Apple’s CarPlay having dominated much of the debate in connected car circles in the past months, now it’s Google’s turn to enter into the limelight and bask in the sun. Get ready for an avalanche of articles, webinars, and conference sessions discussing the benefits, drawbacks and relevance of Android Auto.  

So what do we know about Android Auto? What was revealed is very similar to the aims of other smartphone integration approaches: bringing popular applications such as navigation and music streaming to the car in a safe and convenient way through display mirroring and allowing access and control through automotive user interface controls such as steering wheel buttons, touch screens and voice while maintaining the familiar Android and Google Now look and feel. Contextual and local relevance will be built-in as well, optimizing the driving experience. The Android Auto SDK for developers is being prepared. First vehicles supporting Android Auto are expected before the end of the year. However, important questions include how open Android Auto will be and how (car OEM) application certification will work.   

The announcement of Android Auto coincides with a huge expansion of Open Automotive Alliance membership, with no fewer than 29 new vendors joining GM, Audi, Honda, Hyundai, and NVIDIA:

  • Car OEMs – Bentley, FIAT Chrysler, Ford, Infiniti, Maserati, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, SEAT, Škoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen, Volvo

  • Tier1 and aftermarket suppliers – Alpine, Clarion, Delphi, FUJITSU TEN, HARMAN, JVC KENWOOD, LG, Panasonic, Parrot, Pioneer

  • Software developers and integrators – CloudCar, Symphony Teleca

  • Semiconductor vendors – Freescale, Renesas

So another ecosystem is being created with massive initial support from the automotive industry, though not every new OAA member is necessarily having firm plans to support Android Auto in the near future. Being aware of what’s going on is often an important and sufficient reason to join alliances.  The problem also is that there are now already too many fledgling connected car ecosystems vying for attention: MirrorLink, CarPlay, GENIVI,…While it might be possible for car OEMs to support all of these (Mercedes-Benz has already confirmed this), for the application developer community this is far less obvious from a cost and complexity perspective, fragmentation being the number one enemy of any (application) ecosystem.

A notable brave OAA absentee is BMW, which must be thinking it’s too early to let the Trojan Horse in just yet, having hugely invested in its own connected car technology and automotive application integration. And where are you Toyota and Daimler? In any case, the final decision will be with the (smartphone) end user; no car manufacturer will be able to ignore their needs unpunished for too long.

And how will Android handset OEMs react? Android behemoth Samsung has a history of tweaking the Android interface and adding UI layers on top to add differentiation. Samsung’s Drive Link wrapper application for MirrorLink is a point in case. However, adding another layer of fragmentation is the last thing the automotive industry needs.

And finally, what is NHTSA thinking about all this smartphone integration frenzy? Will they embark on rewriting their driver distraction guidelines? Or stay away far from technical implementation specifics?