At the recent Google I/O developer’s conference, Google has unveiled a slew of software that ranges from its latest version of Android all the way to new hardware such as the midrange Google Pixel 3A. They have also recently unveiled the latest version of its Android Auto smartphone integration, as well as Android Automotive.
Making its public debut at the recent 2019 Geneva Motor Show, the first car to utilize Android Automotive is the 2020 Polestar 2, which was also on display at the Google I/O event. Polestar is Volvo’s sub-brand that makes high-performance versions of its own luxury cars, but recently, Polestar has become a rival to Tesla Motors, creating its own line of fully electric vehicles. Its first vehicle is the Polestar 1, which is a large luxury two-door grand tourer. On the other hand, rhe Polestar 2 is the brand’s first high volume seller. It’s a compact luxury sedan directly aimed towards the Tesla Model 3. It has an electric motor that produces a meaty 402 hp and 660Nm of torque, and a 78 kWh floor-mounted battery pack which is enough to give it a range of 500 kilometers under the WLTC cycle.
Not to be confused with the smartphone integration feature, Android Automotive is an Android operating system meant for the car itself. Since all roads lead to cars having some form of digital display in the future, Google’s vision is for manufacturers to eventually utilize Android natively into their vehicles’ infotainment systems rather than make drivers use their Android smartphones and mirror a simplified version of it into the car’s infotainment display.
The reason for the industry proliferation of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is all because of our thirst for smartphones. Even if a car has a built-in OEM navigation system, chances are, most drivers would still mount their phones on top of their car’s dashboard and use Waze instead. Also, let’s just say that infotainment systems from car manufacturers will never be as intuitive or as responsive to use as our smartphones. In the end, we still interact with our smartphones anyway, even while driving.
In short, the existence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is due to the automobile manufacturers throwing in the towel and letting the smartphone manufacturers develop an app that shows a simplified version of our smartphone’s interface, which runs on top of the car manufacturers’ own software.
Google thinks that the next logical step after Android Auto is for automobile manufacturers to eventually use Android Automotive as its cars’ native operating system. Android Automotive aims to be directly at your dashboard and instrument cluster. A smartphone will not be needed in order for it to work. This means that once this vision is fulfilled, a car’s default navigation will be Google Maps while voice command duties will be made through Google Assistant. Likewise, the Google Play app store will provide drivers an option to download third-party apps that will run natively through the various screens of a car running Android Automotive.
This is not to be confused with a few automobile manufacturers and aftermarket brands utilizing a head unit that runs a version of Android that’s meant for a landscape tablet. That’s an even worse idea, since you literally just glued an Android tablet on your dashboard. No, I’m talking about a bespoke Android software that operates your car’s multi-information display, radio, climate control, reverse camera, cruise control, among other things.
All this points to an eventual future that I have always been thinking for some time now. As Google has provided app and software developers access to Android Automotive, cars will eventually become smartphones with four wheels. Think about it. Even when we drive, we still call, respond to texts and emails (hopefully through voice command), and navigate using Waze or Google Maps. Lastly, our music sources these days aren’t the usual AM, FM, or if you live in the US, satellite radio. Most of the time, we play our tunes from Spotify or Apple Music. Everything we do on a daily basis is based on our dependence on smartphones.
With Android Automotive, this takes it a step further and literally turns our cars into a smartphone with four wheels. Depending on whether this is good or bad news is up to you. For the tech geek inside me, I think this is finally the right way for automobile manufacturers to develop an infotainment system that isn’t distracting or cumbersome to use. Since the future of fully autonomous vehicles is on the horizon, it won’t be surprising if one day, social media apps will now be native in our car’s infotainment systems, allowing drivers to use Facebook while the car drives itself to its destination.