Claiming commitments from most of the world’s most popular car brands, Google revealed Android Auto, an in-car control system for smartphones that will compete with Apple Inc.’s new CarPlay interface.
Chrysler Group, Ford Motor, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen Group are among the automakers that have committed to put the system into production vehicles, with the first models scheduled to go on sale by the end of 2014, Google said on Wednesday at Google I/O, its annual developer conference in San Francisco.
The technology is a sign of Google’s ambition to turn the car into another mobile device for its Android operating system. But it also reflects the pressure on companies like Apple and Google to help reduce the risk of distracted driving.
“Most importantly, Android Auto is completely voice-enabled, so that you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road,” Patrick Brady, director of engineering for Android, said during the conference.
The interface, known as Google Auto Link during development, is the first product to emerge from the Open Automotive Alliance, a Google-led group that includes Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and chipmaker NVIDIA Corp. Google’s plans to unveil the interface at today’s conference were first reported last week by Automotive News.
Android Auto is not an embedded operating system, but rather a “projected” system, which means that smartphones using Google’s Android operating system can be plugged into the car and operated using the car’s controls and display screen.
Among the key features shown during Wednesday’s press conference were Google Play Music, Google Maps and a voice-activated text messaging feature. At one point, a Google engineer showed how a driver could be read a text from an Android phone, and then push a button on the steering wheel to dictate a reply.
Google Auto aims to solve another challenge for automakers: attracting talented app developers and keeping them happy. Car companies have invested heavily in built-in apps, but have struggled to keep pace with smartphones and tablets.
“We know it’s not easy to build apps for cars today,” Brady said. “There are dozens of different car platforms, input controls and user interfaces. There’s no centralized way to distribute your app, or keep it updated. Wouldn’t it be great if building an app for the car was just like building an app for your smartphone or tablet? Well, we have good news for you: The road ahead is brighter.”
Google did not announce which model will be first to use Android Auto. Hyundai has said that its redesigned 2015 Sonata mid-sized sedan will offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto by the end of 2014, which would make it the first mass-market product to do so.