Partnerships between technology companies and vehicle manufacturers look to be the name of the game in the self-driving and connected car space.
A recent announcement from Google indicates that connected car technologies are about to make another big leap forward. The tech giant said that Volvo and Audi are making moves to more deeply integrate the Android operating system in upcoming connected vehicles.
Forthcoming models will leverage the operating system in their infotainment systems and as a means to control mechanical processes like turning on air conditioning or opening the sunroof and windows. Google Assistant functionality will also be added into the mix.
All this without requiring users to connect and interface via smartphone or mobile app.
“Your car’s built-in infotainment system could allow you to control your air conditioning, sunroof, and windows, find the nearest restaurant with Google Maps, listen to Spotify or NPR, or just ask your Google Assistant for help,” Google wrote in a company blog post, “even when you leave your phone behind.”
The company said that each Android car partner will be able to customize the particular controls, interface and applications that come pre-loaded.
This is a major move for Android Auto over Apple CarPlay in making connected car operating systems an existing function of the car itself.
As cars become a vehicle for more digital features and services (pun 100 percent intended), Google could be able to leverage all of this data toward media delivery and advertising. For now, though, the company is reportedly keeping its digital hands off vehicle data.
Likewise, Google execs told Bloomberg that the software won’t extend to areas critical to vehicle safety. We’ll have to wait for viable self-driving tech before we can watch YouTube on dashboard infotainment displays. Safety first.
Additionally, this development won’t mean that competitor Apple’s CarPlay will be locked out of new vehicle models. Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering for Android, told Bloomberg that Apple’s CarPlay would still be able to run on top of this new embedded Android system — as will the Android Auto mobile app.
“Where cars are going, everything is integrated into one display,” Brady was quoted as saying. “We think the future is a much more seamless, integrated system.”
This OS and app access versatility is key for car manufacturers looking to meet consumers where they already interact with technology. Multilateral partnerships, integrations and functionalities such as this look to ensure that the end user will be able to interact with the technology however they so choose—and smartphones are where it’s at, for the time being.
Still, deep integration is clearly Google’s endgame, even if other systems can run on top. This is likely Apple’s goal as well, with self-driving capabilities to boot.
One can envision a future in which car buyers can choose an Android or Apple-based OS for their cars much like they, in the olden days, selected four wheel drive or electric window controls.
The alternative is that some vehicle brands will join in the Android/Apple OS duality while other tech companies and vehicle manufacturers provide their own systems to boot.
Still, some sort of functionality across brands would be key to keeping consumers happy.
There’s also the notion that tech companies could start making their own cars. That’s less likely, even for Apple.
Though the fruit-bedazzled tech giant does like to handle both hardware and software, the amount of time it takes to design a vehicle (even one that needs a human to drive it), combined with the low margins and high regulation, means a fully realized Apple Car would be a long, long-term goal, if it even is a goal at all.