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Google Android M to replace smartphones in vehicle infotainment

By Shivani Shinde-Nadhe
December 30, 2014 11:01 IST
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A version of Android would be built directly into cars allowing drivers to enjoy all the benefits of the internet without even plugging in their smartphones.

Image: Android M will have Android Auto-like functionality, its interface and features will also mostly the same as Android Auto. Photograph: Courtesy, Android

If indications of Google’s plans are anything to go by, the in-vehicle infotainment technology will likely undergo a transformation by the end of next year.

According to a Reuters report, the next update to Google’s Android M could embed the operating system to cars, doing away with the need to plug in smartphones for connecting with the internet.

This means, every time a driver turns on the ignition, he is connected to the internet and gets access to navigation, music and apps, among other things.

If this indeed is true, the system could change in-vehicle infotainment.

At present, even as everyone seems to be talking about connected cars, the connection happens only when a user’s smartphone is docked into the vehicle’s system.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as technology firms, have been eyeing the in-vehicle infotainment segment for some time now.

Among the main reasons are a market opportunity worth over $30 billion that built-in infotainment systems offer, and the traction that the ‘internet of things’ has gained lately.

Image: Google will soon launch Android M. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Gartner analyst and automotive practice leader, Thilo Koslowski, who has been tracking the trend in the automotive sector for over a decade, told Intelligent Networks in an interview that a majority of consumers would, from 2016, regard internet connectivity as a key factor while buying cars.

For customers of premium brands, such a time would come even sooner.

This was evident at last year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES), where several solutions demonstrated the need for automotive companies to cater to consumer appeal by emulating the features and functions of the more mature mobile phone- or tablet-based ecosystems, said a Gartner report.

What was also different at CES was that several automobile industry people could be seen trying to understand what was happening in consumer technology.

Google is not alone in this pursuit. While Apple unveiled its CarPlay in March this year, Microsoft is known to be working with automobile players.

“Consumers have become accustomed to interacting with their personal mobile devices like smartphones and tablets."

They now expect the same level of user experience from automotive infotainment systems, especially with regard to the user interface,” says R M Satish, principal research analyst, Gartner.

Image: Android M can directly be installed in a car. Photograph: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

For a few years now, the automobile sector has been toying with the idea of connected cars. According to reports, General Motors went a step ahead in its 2015 Chevrolet models earlier this year by installing the 4G LTE technology. This will allow the vehicle to connect with the internet independently. Audi, too, is bringing a similar change to its A3 line of vehicles.

Google play
Even as automobile firms are busy working on their systems and Google is yet to say anything on Android M, the search giant has entered into tie-ups with Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai to bring the Android operating system to cars.

Among technology players, it perhaps is Google that might benefit the most from the automobile sector, analyst say. “The automobile and smartphone segments are different in many ways. Since Apple has a converged play — hardware and software — Tier-I companies might see that as a threat. By comparison, Google, with the open-source-based Android and no hardware baggage, looks like a better bet,” says  an analyst who does not wished to be named.

Image: The yet-to-be-launched Android M is a step up from Google's current Android Auto. Photograph:  Courtesy, Android

Satish, however, points out that a ride into the automobile segment might not be easy for technology players like Google and Apple.

“The selection of a platform will depend on the users’ push or the operating system’s popularity.

At present, it is either Andorid or iOS. Auto players also want to work with these players because they cannot provide such an ecosystem of their own. But there are a few riders as well.

The infotainment systems part of the dash board are provided by traditional suppliers, which are extremely strong players.

How openly they will embrace this change is yet to be seen,” he adds. The other issue is standardisation. Automobile is a sector where standardisations matter.

“If the system is built into a car, it needs to meet the standard specification,” says Satish.

Google also scores on the count of generating and storing huge data that it will gather as part of the vehicle. But Satish feels the question of who owns the data remains to be answered.

With players like Intel, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung not restricting themselves to smartphones and computers and treading into areas like wearables, which connect to the internet, vehicles clearly are the next best frontier.

“This is an obvious choice. It allows them to directly connect with the customer, who is already using smartphones, is used to accessing the internet, and wants the same experience, if not better,” an analyst says.

Android Alert

The next update to Google’s Android M could embed the operating system to cars, doing away with the need to plug in smartphones for connecting with the internet

This means, every time a driver turns on the ignition, he is connected to the internet and gets access to navigation, music and apps, among other things n Google is not alone in this pursuit.

While Apple unveiled its CarPlay in March, Microsoft is working with automobile players

The search giant has entered into tie-ups with Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai, to bring the Android operating system to cars

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Shivani Shinde-Nadhe
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