LOS ANGELES -- To help Google Inc.’s new Android Auto system gain favor, Honda Motor Co. is doing something rare in the auto industry: subsidizing its rivals.
Today, at a connected-car conference ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, Google released the first software developer kit for Android Auto, which puts the navigation and other features from an Android smartphone onto a vehicle’s display screen.
But a developer kit needs developers.
Enter Honda, which today announced the opening of a garage in Silicon Valley for coders who want to write apps for Android Auto. At the garage in Mountain View, Calif., these programmers will soon be able to ride around with Honda engineers in a Honda Civic and test their software for free.
These apps would not be exclusive to Honda. They would work with a Hyundai, a Chevrolet, an Audi -- any car equipped with Android Auto. Essentially, Honda is spending its money to help the industry, and the company is OK with that.
“We do want to be in the first group of OEMs to introduce [Android Auto] for Honda customers’ convenience,” Nick Sugimoto, senior program director at the Honda Silicon Valley Lab, said in an interview. “But ultimately, it is for everyone.”
This may seem strange. It’s hard to imagine a conventional car company -- Honda included -- developing an engine technology and sharing it with the world. But this shows the unconventional approach that automakers are taking to make their vehicles play nice with smartphones, which have a different set of rules.
It used to be video game developers had to rewrite their code dozens of times so it would work with all types of smartphones, Sugimoto said. Then Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS came to control nearly all of the smartphone market, and changed that.
“Android made the world flat for app developers,” he said. “Now they need to write it only once, and it works on all Android phones.”
Honda’s hope is that by making it easier for programmers to work with Android Auto, it will spawn some killer apps for the car -- and give Honda an advantage as an early adopter of the platform. Honda has said that it plans to roll out a model equipped with Android Auto in 2015, though it has not said which model.
Sugimoto said that Honda will not try to claim a share of the earnings from the projects that come through its garage.
“It’s the developer’s idea, not our idea,” he said. “We just want to support the app developers. If there’s a really, really good app that somehow is a great match or fit with Honda customers uniquely, then I don’t know, we may go into commercial discussions. But that’s not really our primary intention.”