Android Auto looking to supplant sat-nav firms

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For a long time, the likes of TomTom, Garmin and a few other firms have dominated the satellite navigation scene in the car. Despite online services becoming far more nuanced than what’s offered in sat-nav devices and smartphones being able to deliver a comparable experience, very few people make use of something other than their standalone devices – especially outside of major cities where connectivity can be a problem. That’s what Google is hoping to change with its new infotainment system, Android Auto.

Much like Apple’s CarPlay system which offers its own bespoke mapping and navigation system, Google’s Android Auto comes loaded with Google Maps, with a new coat of paint that makes getting from A-B easier thanks to voice commands and clear instructions on the head-unit’s display.

 

On top of just interaction however, Android Auto goes a step beyond most navigation systems offered by car-makers and third party manufacturers as well, by adding a measure of prediction to its system, as well as implementing its connectivity to offer up-to-date information. Thanks to Google Map’s constant updates, you won’t have out of date roadways display on the device, and instructions won’t be based on roads that no longer exist. In-fact, Android Auto’s Google Maps will even predict where it is you might be going (say work, which you do at the same time every day) and can factor in local traffic reports to give you the quickest route, minute by minute.

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Of course the app won’t get it right all the time so you can use the touchscreen or vocal commands to correct it, search for places to visit or just tell it exactly where to go with the old fashioned input of post code and street name. Of course there are other applications you might want to use while driving, but minimising the directions still leaves the latest one at the bottom of the screen, so even if listening to music on the same device, you can keep updated on where to go.

The interface is designed to be familiar to smartphone users, offering the usual slide, pinch and spread commands for navigation and zooming. This should mean that the uptake of this sort of system is far faster than the original satellite navigation devices, which due to processing speed and a reliance on GPS (instead of 3G and 4G data streams) could lead to spotty signal and menus that were more confusing to the tech illiterate.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of Navigation with Android Auto though, is that you won’t be restricted to Google maps. Unlike on Apple’s CarPlay, when any competitors to its homegrown apps will be denied access (unless you jailbreak it) Google is being far more open with its acceptance of third parties. That means that if someone comes out with a better app than Google maps (Google may just buy the firm out, but that’s another story entirely) it will become available for people to download and use.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.