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Your phone and car are about to become the best of friends

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-05-2017 Vishal Mathur

Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, is expected to power every 9 out of 10 smartphones globally, by the end of this year. Such has been its impact on how we view smartphones today. But Google has now turned its attention to cars—people use phones quite a bit these days, and people drive quite a bit too, sometimes doing both at the same time. With Android, Google plans another onslaught, as we continue to usher in one evolution after another of smart cars. You might have heard about the Android Auto platform, which allows users the ability to plug their phone to the car’s infotainment system and access critical functionality on the larger screen, such as messages, music and navigation.

Also Read: Plug into a smarter car

The safety aspect was primary when the Android Auto, and Apple’s CarPlay were developed—give the functionality that people use most in smartphones, while ensuring that they do not have to peek down at the phone and keep their eyes on the road. We have seen numerous reports that link accidents with distracted drivers who are busy making calls or replying to messages on their phones, and this is a global problem.

Just ahead of the Google I/O developers conference which starts later on Wednesday, Google has shown off a full-fledged Android version that will run in-car infotainment systems. And it is already on its way—German carmaker Audi will upgrade its MMI infotainment system with Android, while Volvo’s Sensus Connect system will also be able to run the full version of Android. “With the advent of Android we will embrace a rich ecosystem while keeping our iconic Volvo user interface. We will offer hundreds of popular apps and the best integrated experience in this broad, connected environment,” says Henrik Green, senior vice-president, research & development at Volvo Car Group.

While CarPlay did most things very well as a feature that was bolted on the overall infotainment system package, an Android-based touchscreen console for your car will not just integrate navigation, music and messages, but also more apps as well as features that are specific to the car—information displays, feature controls and more. The fact that this iteration of Android will sit at the very base of the entire in-car entertainment, navigation and comfort experience, it might not even need you to hook up your phone at all.

The Android for the car also integrates Google Assistant, which is the artificial intelligence-powered, voice-based virtual assistant—this is already available in Android phones, and will enable much smarter voice-based controls in the car—which will be a first-of-its-kind implementation.

The partnership with Audi and Volvo could just be the beginning of a new chapter in the entire smart car saga, which has now captured the attention of almost every tech giant, be it for hardware or software.

And that is not all. At the I/O conference, Google is also expected to unveil updates for the Android Auto platform for existing users and new systems that will deploy this add-on—it is expected that Android Auto will get significant usability tweaks, and wider compatibility.

Also Read: Car Tech: SmartPlay adds the Android touch

It is also expected that Apple will make tweaks to the CarPlay platform at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next month, and could have something big in store with the next iteration of the iOS operating system for the iPhone.

At present, more than 50 carmakers globally support Android Auto as a standard feature in cars they sell, while more than 40 include Apple’s CarPlay with the cars they sell—in fact, many carmakers support both platforms to run on their in-car infotainment systems, which is a big boon for families that may own both Android phones and the iPhone. In India, Maruti Suzuki led the way, and now other carmakers are following in the footsteps.

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