At Google I/O back in June 2014, Android introduced us to Android Auto. It was still very much in its early stages of development, but gave us an idea of what direction Google was taking us with what it considers another way to push Android onto the public's everyday lifestyle – while driving their car. We thought it would be a good idea to get you updated on this great new idea that is quickly gaining acceptance in the auto world as was evident at the latest CES convention in Las Vegas.
The first thing to remember is that cars with Android Auto are probably not running Android, but actually BlackBerry's QNX. Sounds strange, I know, but BB's QNX has been out for a while and many car firms have adopted it to run their infotainment systems. The Android Auto is designed to run on your Android phone and it will connect to the QNX that actually connects to your car's hardware. Android Auto is actually turning the display on your car's dashboard into an Android phone dock, displaying the apps running on your phone. The infotainment screen acts as both a display and a touchscreen to manipulate the apps running on your phone, which is connected via a USB cable.
When you think of Android Auto, think of it as a subset of the full Android and Play Store package. For instance, you can use Google Maps, Music, Telephone functions and web searching for restaurants, tourist places, etc. – but do not expect Candy Crush to show up. Some developers or sponsors, like an ESPN, will stream scores or allow you to set alerts it can read out to you, but you will not be able to watch the replay of that great catch or double play from last night. The applications are not intended to distract you from your main function of driving, but to allow hands free operation in many cases and should help cut down on text related accidents.
Because of the way Android works with the car's infotainment system, it will vary from car to car in how it looks. Some manufacturers will introduce some of their own functions alongside the Android Auto functions and others may decide to go with the stock Google design, which would be nice and less confusing going from car to car. It's like using TouchWiz or Sense or the pure Android found on the Nexus products.
Speaking of going car to car – Google wants us to stay a loyal Android follower…none of this Apple CarPlay stuff. We normally replace our smartphone every couple of years, but we tend to hang on to our cars much longer, and Google is counting on repeat Android smartphone purchases so that it will keep working with your car. While Google does not make it easy for an iPhone to work with Android Auto, it can be done. Apple, on the other hand, has designed CarPlay to work ONLY with an iPhone, so once you buy an automobile with CarPlay in it, you cannot trade out your iPhone for an Android…it will be time to buy a new car as well as getting that great new Android smartphone.
Android Auto should be easy to find as many manufacturers have made commitments to use it on their 2016 vehicles. According to Android Auto's website, Abarth, Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Kia, Maserati, Mazada, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Opel, Dodge RAM, Renault, Seat, Åœkoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen, and Volvo have all chosen to go with Android Auto. BMW, Citroen, Ferrari, Jaguar, Land Rover, Peugeot and Toyota all went with Apple's CarPlay, while many firms will offer a choice of Android Auto and CarPlay. This may potentially affect many car purchases in the future based on what type of smartphone you use.
Google is not pursuing Android Auto without a reason – remember how Google make almost all of its money…and we are talking billions here…by selling information to advertisers and companies that want to know all about you? With Android Auto, Google will know so much more about its users – where you go, the apps you use the most, and how you drive. For instance, what is your favorite place to eat or shop – what are your favorite apps…are you a sports enthusiast, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, or is hockey your thing – how long did it take you to drive from point A to point B…are you as fast driver, do you like to drive via the highways or do you prefer to avoid them. Companies will pay big bucks for the information that Android Auto can provide.
If you just bought a new car and want to experience Android Auto, not to worry, as there will be many third party vendors coming out with their own versions of Android Auto by the likes of Alpine, Kenwood, Pioneer and others. Some of these devices will work with either Android Auto or CarPlay.
Another interesting bit of news – Android Auto is not backward compatible and play nicely with Android 5.0 Lollipop and forward, but with the system not really being ready until 2016, we might be ready for that new Android smartphone by that time. Also, even though Android Auto runs on your phone, it will still take advantage of your car's hardware, such as steering wheel controls, the audio system, the vehicle's GPS system, etc.
It will take a few years before the system becomes less of a 'patchwork' solution. The auto manufacturers want their current system to co-exist with Android Auto (as well as Apple's CarPlay) so there will be times that you will actually exit Android Auto and go back to a different looking interface. This could cause problems and confusion for many drivers, especially older ones that are not very tech savvy. Please hit us up on our Google+ Page and let us know if you are looking forward to using Android Auto or what problems you foresee…as always, we would love to hear from you.