Automotive giants Volvo and Audi are partnering with Google to develop an all-new Android-based infotainment system that’s built directly into cars.
Full details of the “close partnership” are to be announced later this week at Google I/O, the internet giant’s annual developer conference. But we do know that this tie-up is something separate from Google’s existing car-focused product, Android Auto, which over the past few years has gained growing support among car manufacturers — including Volvo and Audi.
While Volvo has revealed some specific details for its plans around integrating with Android, Audi has not — but Google has confirmed that Audi is on board for the development too.
“We are making an important strategic step with the Google partnership,” announced Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo. “Google’s platform and services will enhance the user experience by enabling more personalization possibilities, while Android will offer increased flexibility from a development perspective.”
Android Auto, which was first announced at Google I/O back in 2014, made its debut on one of Hyundai’s cars in May 2015. When integrated into a car’s dashboard, it allows Android smartphone users to control certain functions, including GPS navigation, music, SMS composition, and internet searches. But Android Auto is really just a means to connect the smartphone to the car’s display — all the software runs on the phone itself.
Google has long been rumored to be working on plans to push Android directly into the very fabric of the automobile, bypassing the need for a smartphone altogether. And the Volvo tie-up appears to be the first step in that direction, with the carmaker noting that apps developed by Google, Volvo, and third-party app developers will offer “connected and predictive services in and around the car,” according to a statement issued by the company.
Indeed, Volvo notes that the next generation of its in-car infotainment and connectivity system will be based on Android and will begin rolling out on new Volvo models “within two years,” according to the company.
Check out this promo for the new Android OS for cars here:
Though it appears that the initial development of the new car-focused Android will be limited to Volvo and Audi cars, in the longer term it’s likely that Google will be working with a number of car manufacturers to garner an exclusive foothold in the burgeoning connected car space. But this also raises a number of questions around car companies limiting their potential client base to those already invested in the Android ecosystem.
While an existing Android device won’t be needed to utilize the new Android-based infotainment system, it will still likely have to work with drivers’ Google accounts. So if a potential car buyer leans more toward the iOS way of doing things, they may be deterred from investing in a car that has Android built into the core. One of the benefits of the existing connected car setup is that many vehicles support both Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay, meaning that a driver’s preferred mobile OS is irrelevant.
At any rate, building an Android OS directly into cars does make sense, as it opens up a whole world of opportunities for integrations beyond what is capable through Android Auto, for example it could allow you to control your windows or air conditioning through a simple voice command. And it goes without saying that we can perhaps expect Apple to go a similar route in the future.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Volvo to bring Android into their next generation connected cars,” added Patrick Brady, vice president of Android engineering at Google. “This partnership gives us the opportunity to deliver a more seamless experience to Volvo drivers through a full-featured infotainment platform and rich ecosystem of Android applications and Google services.”