Google have released a set of Android Auto developer documents, which gives us a better idea of how Google's in-car platform will look like and what it can do. We already know that Android Auto applications are not true applications in the sense of the word, but are instead using Android Auto content (and user interface information) to show content to the user. This is just how Android Wear applications work and it makes it simpler, easier, cheaper and faster for developers to roll out applications for the new platforms. Furthermore, application developers don't design the interface for Android Auto, instead they must use Google-provided templates and colours. It's the route that Google have taken in order to maintain some continuity between different applications but allowing developers to make their application easily identifiable. Developers' abilities are limited: they can't move, resize or add additional buttons around, nor can additional screens be included. If a developer wants to write an application that Google hasn't considered, it sounds like it's not going to be allowed.
Google's tight restriction on applications seems a bit draconian but they're clearly designing Android Auto products to be easily recognisable and usable by all manner of people. It feels as though they are keen to remove the geekiness and smartdevice type of interface that we're used to. We know that Google has enlisted the help of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help design Android Auto to be as least distracting as possible. This means simplifying and standardising the interface. Google describe the user interface restrictions as, "Android Auto provides you with a standard UI designed to minimize driver distraction. You do not have to test a custom UI for driver distraction, which is a lengthy and expensive process involving multiple legislations across the globe and different standards for each vehicle OEM." Looking inside many cars, it's plain to see that they're not alone in simplifying interfaces. This is what many car manufacturers are aiming for. The days of hundreds of buttons on or adjacent to a dashboard are not quite behind us, but they're getting there.
What can developers include? Google has provided frameworks for different types of applications and one of the most common will be the media interface: developers can use this for "music, podcast, live radio and audio news." Applications can plug into Notification API (application programming interface, essentially an easy way for developers to access system-wide services) so that Android Auto handles things like incoming calls, messages and other notifications. There's also going to be a set of voice actions that applications can register for and like Android Wear, voice control is going to be an important part of Android Auto. And finally, the software will have day and night modes, showing below, to change the brightness of the interface. The software development kit isn't out yet, it's due in the next few months and by then we'll learn more.
I'm excited by Android Auto and the possibilities it'll bring going forward. My sense of direction is shameful, I'm the son of a Royal Air Force Navigator, so I use guided navigation a lot. I'm not interested in an extension of the distraction that my Android smartphone gives me when I'm driving, so Android Auto technology is right what I'm looking for. It's going to be a long wait.