Android Auto in any car. That’s what Android users asked for, and that’s what Google will give them, along with a slew of other new features, when it updates its dashboard Android experience later this year.
You won’t need to buy a new car with Android Auto support, nor even a new stereo system with Android Auto baked in. Android Auto will be updated to run directly on any Android phone running Lollipop and up—which pretty much gives Google’s infotainment experience to anyone using a modern phone.
Google also revealed support for the Waze navigation app in Android Auto. For developers, the company plans to make Android Auto open-source, a move that will let car manufacturers customize the system for their own dashboard controls, from radios to instrument clusters to even HVAC systems.
Android Auto on your phone
In an update scheduled for “later this year,” the Android Auto app will be re-tailored to run directly on smartphones (presumably cradled in a mount fixed to your windshield or dashboard). The on-phone experience will offer the same features as the original dashboard setup, including easy-to-read menu screens and access to a small slate of voice-controlled Android functions, including hands-free calling, texting, music control, and navigation. Google says it will also bring hotwording to Android Auto, so you can use the interface with “OK Google” prompts, rather than tapping on an icon to get started.
I tested Android Auto’s new features on Tuesday, and, yes, they work. The big win for Android Auto, though, will be the potential for ubiquity. Once these features go live, you can bring them with you into any car—your car, your friend’s car, your rental car, heck, even your motorcycle or bicycle. Suddenly Apple CarPlay will look like a small fry.
Android Auto is going open source
Drowning Apple CarPlay in a sea of Android Auto is likely what Google has in mind, and it’s inviting automakers to help. The company announced that Android Auto in Android N will include support for AM/FM radio, HVAC, Bluetooth calling and media streaming, multi-channel audio, and digital instrument clusters. These additions will help car makers and other third parties incorporate the source code for native integration into the vehicle, rather than running an entirely separate operating system with Android Auto as an accessory application. If Android Auto is baked directly into cars, that might leave a little less room—and motivation—to support Apple CarPlay.
A concept of the software will be on display at I/O inside a Maserati Ghibli. Deep inside this attention-grabbing car, Google’s tucked the modular Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Automotive platform to run Android Auto natively. The Android Auto features will run on a 15-inch, 4K display (not quite as big as the 17-incher in the Tesla Model S, in case you’re keeping score) and a 720p digital cluster. We’ll be checking out this car after the keynote, so stay tuned.
Android Auto Waze support (finally)
Finally, Google will officially integrate the Waze navigation app into Android Auto. Finally, indeed: We’ve been clamoring for this feature since we reviewed the platform last year. Nothing against Google Maps for most purposes, but Waze still does a better job of alerting drivers to upcoming traffic situations or other delays. One of the challenges for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is to build in the features and apps users want without sacricifing simplicity and safety. Adding the popular Waze app is just one small step, but it will add to Android Auto’s appeal.
Android Auto’s branching out. After a decent start, it’s currently supported by about 100 new cars and a few third-party infotainment systems. That basically puts it in parity with CarPlay. Later this year, however, when it becomes available for anyone to use in any vehicle—and especially if more automakers start using Android Auto as the native infotainment application—Apple CarPlay could start to fall behind in adoption. Of course, Apple’s doing its own mysterious things with cars, so we’ll keep you posted on how this race progresses.