Google's Android Auto Takes a Virtualized Approach to Connected Car Entertainment
July 07, 2014
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
Connected cars are becoming more mainstream as operators are building out the necessary 3G and 4G connectivity to enable advanced apps for infotainment and telematics. Meanwhile, technology for streaming content from a smartphone or performing remote diagnostics is becoming increasingly embedded into new car makes and models. And all of this is being driven by the thirst of the consumer to be always, forever connected—and OS creators are wanting to make the most of the opportunity.
At its I/O conference, Google took the wraps off of Android (News - Alert) Auto, its connected vehicle infotainment system. The system lets a user with an Android smartphone “cast” apps and content to the system in an extension of its Chromecast functionality for TVs, with optimized controls that acknowledge the dangers of distracted driving.
For instance, the Google Maps, music functions and texting can all be controlled via voice command—as well as a touchscreen and steering wheel buttons. When ported to the console, they get new user interfaces too so that Google Maps, for instance, looks more like a typical GPS system, and the music interface is larger and feels like typical car stereo controls.
“It looks and feels like it’s part of the car, but all of the apps we’re seeing are on the phone,” explained Android engineering director Patrick Brady, as he demoed the app on stage at I/O.
There are several advantages to this approach for Google. For one, there’s no need to push out updates to all compatible cars every time there’s a bug fix or an app refresh. Everything happens on the phone, making OS updating simple for everyone involved and helps protect the investment in legacy hardware. In the pay-TV world, this approach has been pioneered by companies like ActiveVideo, which works with Cablevision and Charter in the U.S., and Liberty Global abroad, to push modern apps to legacy cable boxes.
Also, it drives uptake for its devices, in a strategy that’s reminiscent of Apple’s (News - Alert) “echo chamber” approach to its walled garden ecosystem. Ironically though, this virtualized approach is in contrast though to Apple’s competing platform, CarPlay, which is a replacement for the in-vehicle system. That may be a tactic to widen interest in it beyond Apple users.
Google’s initial developer partners are Joyride, Stitcher, MLB At Bat, Pandora (News - Alert), TuneIn, Umano, PocketCasts and iHeartRadio. It also plans to launch an Auto-specific SDK, initially featuring audio streaming and messaging APIs. Google will of course keep a tight rein over approvals considering the real irony at play when it comes to in-vehicle connectivity. While more and more advanced technology is placed in our cars, the majority of car owners believe it is becoming a real driver distraction. At least this is according to several government reports. A Harris Poll, for instance, says 75 percent of all car owners fret about the dangers of in-car technology.
That said, 20 percent of cars on the road in the U.S. and Western Europe will by 2017 be app-capable, according to analysts at Juniper Research (News - Alert).
As for when Google’s entry may go commercial, in January it created the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) with GM, Audi, Honda (News - Alert) and Hyundai as founding members. We’ll have to stay tuned as to when the technology might start rolling off the assembly lines.