Watch out Apple, your old smartphone Nemesis is hot on your heels. CarPlay might just be a few months away from its official release (and activation for those vehicles that are coming pre-fitted with the new infotainment system), but Google’s Android Auto isn’t far behind, with the search giant showing off some of the system’s more exciting features in a recent developer overview.
“Android Auto extends the Android platform into the car. When users connect their Android handheld device to a compatible vehicle, Android Auto provides a car-optimized Android experience on the vehicle’s screen,” reads the developer overview introduction. “Users interact with compatible apps and services through voice actions and the vehicle’s input controls.”
While there are further breakdowns of the software and hardware package as a whole, describing its notification, voice communication and application supporting functions, the main aim of the developer overview was to show off the Android Auto user interface, which will be a major battleground in the war for the connected car.
There’s a stock template for the UI on the infotainment system, which Google showed off as being quite clean, with large icons for easy use while driving. For anyone that’s used an Android smartphone over the past half decade, the layout should be mostly familiar, with main system functions along the bottom, and the more app centric ones located in the lower centre of the screen. At the top of the display are notifications like signal strength and update alerts.
The screen display on the right in the side image here, is a customised UI that was developed as an alternative. Google showed this off to explain how third party application makers can design their own backgrounds and user interfaces for customers, making for a truly unique and personal Android Auto for each consumer. If they want it to be that is.
Other added functions shown off include a deliberate transition between day and night. When the sun goes down and the street lights come on, the Auto display switches to a lower brightness and a background with less glare. Everything remains easy to read in a darkened environment, but you don’t have the display messing with your natural night vision like some head units do nowadays.
Again, third party developers will be able to tweak and play with these options, as well as fully customising what icons are displayed on each screen. If an app maker wanted to add new functions to their app, they have four digital buttons within the app itself, as well as four extra ones lower down the display which can give extra function if needed.
Google also hoped that Android developers would begin developing for the Auto platform now, despite it not being set for release until later this year. To help test these applications, Google recommends that developers try them on a similar sized screen, like the Nexus 7. The Android Auto SDK is available for those that are interested in giving it a shot.