SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 1 billion mobile devices, from smartphones and tablet computers to computerized wristwatches, use Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
Next up? Chevrolets and Cadillacs.
So says supplier Harman International, which won a $900 million contract from General Motors in 2012 to supply a next-generation infotainment system. Harman’s system will be based on Android, and is scheduled to launch in GM vehicles in late 2016, Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal revealed last week during a conference call discussing quarterly earnings.
“As you would expect, this next-generation infotainment solution will enable an app store, which allows this infotainment system to stay technologically relevant over the life cycle of the vehicle,” he told analysts. “Apps will be developed by General Motors, Harman and a bunch of other third parties, not just Google and Apple.”
Paliwal said that Stamford, Conn.-based Harman, a member of the Google-led Open Automotive Alliance, is working closely with Google on the system to ensure that Android is “automotive-grade ready.”
This means satisfying the rigorous demands from car companies, including that an Android infotainment system start up almost instantaneously when a driver turns the key in the ignition or pushes the “start” button.
Paliwal said GM would be the first car company to launch vehicles using Harman’s new operating system, though other automakers could adopt it “one life cycle behind.”
GM declined to comment on Paliwal’s comments.
“General Motors is an industry leader in connected car technologies,” a spokesman said, noting that GM launched 4G LTE cellular connections in 30 of its models in 2014 and was among the first automakers to incorporate Apple Inc.’s voice-activated Siri service into its vehicles. “We are excited about the future of this space but we do not comment on future products and technologies.”
Leading, but not alone
Paliwal did not say which GM models would be first to use the new operating system.
It also remains unclear how widely Android would be deployed across GM’s product lineup, which is currently divided across several operating systems.
Within the Chevrolet brand alone, the Malibu and Cruze sedans use Blackberry Ltd.’s QNX, while the Tahoe SUV and Impala sedan run on Linux and the Sonic subcompact and Spark minicar use an operating system from Microsoft Corp., Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst at the consultancy IHS, who tracks connected cars, said in an interview.
Boyadjis said GM is unlikely to consolidate all of its vehicles on a single operating system. But by adopting Android, with its vast network of software developers, GM could gain an edge in the race to introduce smartphone-style functionality to cars.
“I think they’re leading in the space,” Boyadjis said. “But I don’t think they’re alone.”
By disclosing GM’s plans, Paliwal may be trying to show that General Motors is still working closely with Harman amid a rethinking of its connected-car strategy.
“GM has been very clear right from the top about its priorities in the area of connected-car technologies, and we are and will play an important role in their ecosystem,” Paliwal said during the earnings call.
At the CES technology convention this January, GM announced that it would launch a service called AppShop in 2014, populated by apps from National Public Radio, the Weather Channel and the hotel-shopping site Priceline.
GM publicly backed away from that plan in July.
"The app shop didn't meet our customer experience expectations, and so we've delayed the introduction of it," the news site MLive.com quoted Phil Abram, chief infotainment officer at GM, as saying at an event in Detroit marking the launch of the 4G LTE service.
Experts saw GM’s decision to delay the service as a reaction to Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto, which allow drivers to access apps on a car’s infotainment screen by pairing an iPhone or an Android smartphone with the car.
GM has said it will offer both, but has not said in which models they will debut.
Speaking at a computing conference in September, Mary Chan, president of GM’s global connected consumer division, told the technology news website GigaOm that GM decided that some of the apps intended for AppShop should not be offered using GM’s own embedded infotainment system.
“Those types of applications are great applications to be brought into the car with the smartphone,” Chan told GigaOm. “The types of apps we want to focus on are the ones that require a much deeper integration with the vehicle.”