Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is developing a version of its Android software that would be built directly into the consoles of cars, obviating the need to have a smartphone connect to the car's infotainment system, according to a Reuters report.
The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, indicates that Google is thinking of a major shift in how its Android Auto software interfaces with cars. As The Verge notes, Android Auto, enabled by Android 5.0 Lollipop, is a software layer that runs on top of existing in-car platforms from car makers. Users need to have a phone connected to a car with a built-in screen to access their phone's content, maps and applications, which are projected onto the screen. That's similar to how Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) CarPlay functions.
Under the shift being considered for the next version of Android, dubbed Android M right now, Android Auto would be built directly into cars. Google is expected to unveil its long-term plans to get Android into cars sometime late next year, and the first such vehicles are expected to hit the market sometime in 2015.
"With embedded it's always on, always there," said one of the sources, referring to the built-in version of Android Auto. "You don't have to depend on your phone being there and on."
Google declined to comment, according to Reuters.
"It provides a much stronger foothold for Google to really be part of the vehicle rather than being an add-on," Thilo Koslowski, vice president and Automotive Practice Leader of industry research firm Gartner, told Reuters. He said he was unaware of Google's latest plans.
For Google, the shift would mean that its software would be powered inside the car, and presumably updated, for as long as a consumer owned that car. That could help lock users into Google's Android ecosystem. As Reuters points out, Google could also potentially access data collected by vehicles, including GPS data, where users drive, how much fuel they use and where they stop for gas. That could potentially improve Google services, especially Maps, but might also raise privacy concerns.
A major unknown that is not answered in the Reuters report is how Google is going to get cars connected to the Internet, and whether it is going to work with wireless carriers or chipset companies to embed modules in cars. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), the leading LTE baseband chipset provider, is working with Google in the connected car market, though it's not clear in what capacity.
Also unknown is how automakers would react to seeing their own software platforms supplanted by Android. The car makers might be reluctant to let Google commoditize the connected car experience and reduce differentiation between different car brands. Google counts 28 auto brands as partners for Android Auto, including Acura, Audi, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford Motor Co., Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, KIA, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo.
- see this Reuters article
- see this Engadget article
- see this The Verge article
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