MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- In a play to persuade automakers to run cars on its Android operating system, Google introduced today an updated version of Android that it promises will work easily with key in-car features such as climate control, AM/FM radio and digital instrument clusters.
Automakers such as Kia Motors Corp. for years have sold cars with Android-based infotainment systems, but using the operating system, which is more common in smartphones and tablets, usually took extensive re-engineering. With the arrival of Android N, unveiled today at the Google I/O developer conference, that work already will be done, said Patrick Brady, director of engineering for Android Auto.
“We’re beginning to turn Android into as much of a car infotainment platform as it is a phone platform today,” Brady said in an interview at Google’s headquarters here.
To drive the point home, Google today showed a concept car based on the Maserati Ghibli featuring a 15-inch screen and a high-definition digital instrument cluster powered by a Snapdragon 820 chip from Qualcomm.
For the concept, Google crafted an interface that borrows many design elements from Android smartphones as well as from Android Auto, a smartphone interface now widely available on cars from General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen.
Brady said Google plans to freely offer the Google-designed interface to automakers for use inside their cars, though it expects that most automakers using Android will design customized interfaces to suit their brands.
In another major change, Google announced that it plans to offer Android Auto as a stand-alone app for smartphones.
This means people with older cars -- or newer cars that haven’t been designed for Android Auto -- will be able to get a comparable experience by placing a smartphone in a mount on the dashboard.
Google hopes customers who use smartphone apps such as Google Maps or Spotify will embrace the new interface, which is designed to be safer for use while driving. Brady said Google is thinking of having Android smartphones automatically run Android Auto when a customer is inside their car, by using Bluetooth pairing as an indicator.
“People with Android smartphones are using them in the car in massive numbers,” Brady said. “We think the improved user experience we’re offering with Android Auto on your smartphone screen is going to be significant, and we have very high ambitions for how many users will adopt it.”
Google plans several other updates to Android Auto in the coming months.
One is the addition of “hotwording,” which allows customers to ask Android Auto to place a phone call, set a destination or play music by saying the phrase, “OK Google.” Google suggests this could be safer because it spares drivers from even pressing the “talk” button on the steering wheel, although researchers continue to debate the mental workload caused by voice control.
Google also plans to roll out an Android Auto version of Waze, a Google Maps rival also owned by Google that has become popular with smartphone users for its user-reported data on crashes, traffic and speed traps.
A third feature arriving soon is the ability of an Android Auto-enabled car to connect to a smartphone without a physical cable. But there is a catch: Android Auto will only support wireless connections over Wi-Fi.
“We’ve tested Bluetooth, but it’s not a great experience,” Brady said. “It doesn’t have the bandwidth you need to display video at 30 to 60 frames per second. We believe that for a good experience, you really need Wi-Fi.”