systems, this analogy is manifest in nearly every infotainment system on
Just like in the early days of the modern smartphone, app development suffers, too. When every hardware OEM (car or phone) is making its own operating system, writing an app becomes impossible. There is just no
way to support five to 10 different operating systems, each with different ways of doing things. Smartphone app usage only exploded once the market consolidated around two to three operating systems. One of those OSes was Android, and it has been incredibly successful for Google.
Android Auto is the company’s attempt to port its smartphone strategy over to the automotive space, and, just like Apple’s CarPlay, applying some smartphone know-how to the car computer makes a night-and-day difference. The UI layout makes sense, animations and scrolling happen at 60 FPS, and it uses Google’s new material design language.
Google’s Car OS is made to be as simple as possible. It does maps, music, messaging, phone calls, voice search, and that’s about it. A black bar at the bottom handles navigation and contains an app icon for each major action. Just like Car Play, the OS lives on your phone and is beamed from the phone to a dumb touchscreen in the car. The software only has to be updated on the phone, and when you get a new phone, your car computer gets faster. Infotainment systems can run their own
software and switch over to Android Auto when a device is present.
read, drivers will look at the road.
App development is much more limited on Android Auto than we’re used to. Third parties can only make messaging and music apps—nothing else is supported. That means you’ll be able to get WhatsApp, WeChat, Pandora, and Spotify on your car computer, but any other type of app is off
limits. Custom layouts are not allowed, either. All the music apps will look the same, with only the iconography changed and maybe a new color accent. “Apps” on Android Auto are more like plugging a third-party back end into Google’s UI.
Several Googlers told us these limitations are done with safety in mind. The company has figured out how to safely do these actions in a car computer, so that’s what it is allowing developers to do. Safety
while driving is always a good thing, but this move also seems to shut down third-party innovation opportunities—it’s Google’s way or the highway (sorry).
The biggest problem for Android Auto is the barrier to entry: you have to buy a new car. For now Google says they are focused on building the software, and it’s up to hardware manufacturers to bring it to consumers. Vehicles supporting Google’s most mobile OS ever will start rolling off assembly lines this year.
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