Google’s already shown us Android Auto on the phone, as well as some of the new features that’ll come standard with the next version of the in-car infotainment platform. But Mountain View isn’t stopping there. Google is currently working on an SDK that bakes Android directly into a car’s dashboard, so that auto car manufacturers can use the OS for not just navigation and communication, but also traditional car functions, like climate control... and butt massaging.
I got to see it all in action at Google I/O.
I sat inside a luxurious, air-conditioned Maserati Ghibli to experience how Google hopes Android N and Android Auto can work in conjunction with one another. There’s no official name for the software, nor is there is a launch date. But it’s a neat concept that could do wonders for propagating the Android platform beyond just smartphones and tablets.
Android Auto currently requires that you have a compatible receiver installed inside your car’s dashboard and a smartphone running the app. But this concept is intended for any manufacturer to use as the car’s native infotainment platform.
The software is essentially an amalgamation of Android N and Android Auto. This version of Android N offers native support for things like AM/FM radio, HVAC, Bluetooth calling and media streaming, multi-channel audio, and digital instrument clusters. Meanwhile, Android Auto does the heavy lifting in running applications.
The interface appears as if it’s split in two. More than half of it uses Android Auto’s cards motif, while the remaining portion offers switches for features like air conditioning, seat warmers, power windows, and even a seat massager—a feature I had no idea even existed until I sat inside the Ghibli.
There’s also a second display behind the steering wheel that offers supplementary information, like how fast you’re going and how much gas you’ve got left in the tank. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to glance away from the road to see the song you’re playing or where Google Maps wants you to turn next.
The concept software inside the Ghibli was shown on a 15-inch 4K touchscreen embedded in the center of the console. The smaller display behind the steering wheel is 720p, and everything runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 Automotive processor. Google said it will allow manufacturers to choose display sizes, and what features are implemented, and that it’s merely providing Android as a starting point for a distraction-free, auto-friendly operating system.
I loved the idea of having Android baked into the car, but I have some reservations about how this particular software will actually function when it comes to fruition. First off, notice that the screen produces a lot of glare. Beyond that, I like having mechanical dials in front of me. This much information behind the wheel seems too distracting.
Then there’s the issue of real-world use—and whether we want all our controls relegated to touch input. Right now, if I need to adjust the air conditioning in my car, I just reach down to turn the nob without taking my eyes off the road. I know that when I turn that dial to the right, I’m increasing the temperature. But with a touchscreen, you have to physically look down to ensure that your finger is dragging and tapping the appropriate switch.
Regardless, at this point in time, this particular Android concept is just that—nothing more than a concept. Google doesn’t have a timeline for when the software will go live, though we’ll likely hear more about it in the next year once the company signs on with some major car manufacturers. Android’s in-car implementation will be decided by the car makers, and here’s to hoping they choose a nice marriage of distraction-free form and function.