Following up on the announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance in January, Google took the stage at I/O 2014 to introduce just how it's going to be getting inside your car. Android Auto is its name and bringing Android apps and services to your car is its game.
It'll be a little while before we're behind the wheel of a new car with Android Auto inside – Google said we should expect the first before the end of 2014 – so it gives us a chance to digest and developers a chance to get their apps ready. It's something we're eager to get our hands on but in the meantime, here's what you need to know about Android Auto.
In simple terms, it's Android, for your car. In much the same way as Apple has done with it's CarPlay system, Android Auto will be baked into future releases of Android for your mobile devices beginning with the L release. It'll give you in-car access to your phone functions like calls and messaging, apps like Google Play Music and Google Maps for navigation, voice search and a whole lot more.
With an SDK being made available to Android developers, it opens up many possibilities. Already announced partners on Google's official Android Auto site include Major League Baseball that will be giving you access to its content – presumably including audio streams – inside the car, Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio for your music needs and Pocket Casts for your podcasts. The SDK will be available for audio and messaging apps so there's a chance whichever your favorite is will find its way in there.
This one's important to remember. Android Auto is on your phone, not embedded into the car. This is the same approach Apple took with CarPlay and is probably the best way to go about it. The auto manufacturers build support for the platform into their own systems – many built on top of the BlackBerry owned QNX OS – and then Android Auto becomes visible to you when you connect your phone.
This also means it's entirely possible – as Volvo has already announced – to support both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in the same model vehicle. For car buyers this really is the best solution since a car purchase is much different to buying a phone. And we really wouldn't want to have to choose a car based on our mobile preferences, would we?
Android Auto also has built in support for steering wheel controls, meaning you're still able to perform such actions as changing the track you're listening too, adjusting the volume and answering a call without taking your hands off the wheel. Should you have a button that would activate voice control you'll be able to use the voice activated features in Android also from the steering wheel.
Ultimately the way Android Auto is handled will undoubtedly vary across different manufacturers. Volvo has chosen to keep some of its own car controls and data visible at all times alongside Android Auto. Others may choose to cover up all traces of the stock systems.
In simple terms, it looks like Android. That's important to anyone using it. Familiarity is key – especially since you'll often be moving while this is in operation – but equally important are the interface changes that make it more suitable for use in the car.
Since Android Auto is built on Android L it follows the new look and the Material Design principles shown off at Google I/O. How third-party apps look will depend upon their respective developers, but Google's own apps look to have been adapted well for the car with big touch areas and that anything presenting you with information is easy to read.
Google announced on stage that the first new cars with Android Auto would be on the road before the end of 2014. In any case since it relies on Android L, we'll have to wait for that to begin to push out to devices, too. As yet there's no timeframe for that.
A couple of car makers have already confirmed their plans. Audi has committed to putting it in vehicles in 2015 while Volvo's first car, the new XC90, will be unveiled in October at the Paris Motor Show.
The Open Automotive Alliance has just expanded with 40 new members, all of which will be able to use Android Auto. Importantly not all of the members are car makers, so there's hope for folks to get this into their existing vehicles instead of needing to wait until they buy a new one. Alpine, Clarion and JVCKenwood are three of the bigger names in third-party in-car equipment that have joined up.
On the auto maker front, the list now encompasses a real blend across the whole spectrum of the market. At the top end we've got the likes of Bentley and Maserati on board, followed by Audi, Volvo, Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford and many other more mainstream car manufacturers. Many of us would love a new Bentley, but it's good to know you're able to get similar in-car technology in a Fiat with Android Auto!
We're still only scratching the surface with Android Auto. As the SDK gets into developers hands and we get closer to an actual release date there's bound to be much more to get our teeth into. With a big auto show in Europe scheduled for October it's a reasonable bet we'll be seeing some of the actual vehicles taking Android Auto onto the road around that time, but it's going to be an interesting ride. If there's something you're particularly excited for, give it a shout out in the comments below!