Google is finally laying out its grand plans to bring Android, the world's leading mobile operating system, to your car. It's called Android Auto. Think of it as the software you're already familiar with, but redesigned and reimagined for the car. Google says Android Auto is contextually aware, bringing you the information you want when you need it. And it's been optimized for voice, which means you'll never need to take your hands off the wheel to use it. Google said that was a priority in their approach to developing Android Auto, with Patrick Brady pointed to alarming accident statistics during his presentation at I/O. "There has to be a better way," he said. Google’s car ambitions are rooted in Android L, the latest version of its mobile operating system. The new OS is slated to arrive this fall, and Google says the first cars that support Android Auto will follow by year's end.
Android Auto makes heavy use of Google Now to create a safer and more convenient driving experience. The system gives you quick, voice-based access to Google Maps navigation, text messaging, and apps like Google Play Music. Android Auto is fully compatible with the dials, knobs, and buttons on your dashboard and steering wheel. Since everything you see on screen is actually being "casted" from your smartphone, Google says the in-car experience will be even better if you own a powerful handset. An SDK for Android Auto is coming soon, and the company is encouraging developers to get in quick. It's already rounded up early partners including Spotify, Pandora, MLB.TV, Stitcher, and Pocket Casts.
At the start of this year, Google and several automaker partners announced the Open Automotive Alliance, a collaboration that will prove vital to the company's hopes of owning your dashboard. The group's stated goal is "making technology in the car safer, more seamless and more intuitive for everyone." Obviously Android is central to that plan. "We believe that a common platform will help drive innovation," the Open Automotive Alliance said in January. Today marks the first time we've gotten a real look at the plan in motion. And it's all part of the company's mission to build a seamless platform across every device in your life, from phones and wearables to TVs and automobiles. Sundar Pichai promised "a full set of new experiences" as part of the push.
Google's in-car technology is a direct rival to Apple's CarPlay, which offers iPhone owners a familiar user interface while driving. CarPlay allows hands-free access to iOS messages and navigation features, and also supports select third-party software like Spotify, Beats Music, and even MLB.TV. And it shares one key similarity with Android Auto: CarPlay depends on your iPhone to work. It's not a standalone platform. A number of automakers (and aftermarket hardware manufacturers) have aligned themselves with Apple and CarPlay, though you won't find it in any cars on the road right now. So while Apple has had a head start, Google has a very real opportunity to catch up and take the iOS versus Android war to automobiles. And after years of putting up with dumb automaker "infotainment" systems, everyone should be excited about that.