Google’s annual I/O conference is taking place at the moment and boy have their been some big announcements in the world of tech. However the one that pricked up our ears, was the announcement by the search giant that it had been working on an operating system just for cars – not surprising really since it’s been making its own self driving vehicles for a while now – based on its Android mobile operating system, known as Android Auto.
Announced by Andrew Brenner, current head of Google Automotive, he said that the software was designed to improve the current driving experience. By making it entirely voice controlled, Google wants to free up drivers’ hands to keep them on the wheel, but it’s also added improvements to navigation and communication too.
Designed to go head to head with its smartphone rival Apple, Android Auto will offer a mix of information and entertainment options. It’s not designed to take over the entire vehicle though or be the main brains behind it, it’s more like a plug and play system. You install an Android Auto device and then hook up your smartphone for added processing and storage.
The car will provide something of course: diagnostics and a larger display. While the entire thing will be voice controlled, you’ll also be able to use the larger touchscreen to interact with maps and other aspects of navigation.
Android director of engineering Patrick Brady also appeared front and centre to make some points on the new system, stating that all the apps on Android Auto would run through your smartphone, so if you have a faster phone or newly updated apps, they’ll run better than they did before.
However Auto does provide some new functions, you aren’t just getting a phone with a bigger screen when you get one of these systems. The voice activated navigation system is also programmed like a personal assistant, so you can make queries of it like when do certain businesses open, or saying the name of a place to pull up navigation pointers, rather than needing to key in the post code and the name of the venue.
Messaging is pretty similar to Apple’s CarPlay, with a voice activated system that lets you get in touch with loved ones just by saying their name and the type of communication you want to make. You can dictate text messages to the device, or make full on voice calls without issue.
Of course though it’s not all about function, Android Auto is also about entertainment and Google has bundled its Play Music system into the hardware, making it very easy to access your favourite music, as well as list it by album, playlist or genre. The idea is, that you only ever need to glance at the display, there’s no need to look for extended periods or to even touch it while driving. This is designed to be much safer than traditional button based stereos which are often a cause for accidents when people take their eyes off the road.
Google will also help independent developers create apps for the platform by releasing an Android Auto SDK. While it will initially only release APIs for music and messaging applications, more functionality will come in the future.
So far as many as 40 different manufacturers have pledged support for Google’s platform, though many will also be making Apple CarPlay hardware available to their customers.