Safe and entertaining? How has Google's infotainment technology evolved in three stages?
As the tech revolution in the auto sector, spearheaded by electric vehicles (EVs), go on at full speed, one of the critical components of modern cars is the infotainment system. But contrary to those who believe this technology has emerged as an exclusive feature in cars, infotainment systems aim to provide complete safety for passenger cars and fleets.
If we take a glance at the safety issue, despite increasing safety features of cars, usage of mobile devices on the wheel is still a huge problem. Distractions caused by using modern technology while driving increase the risk of accident by 50%, says Allianz, supported by the figures below:
|Writing text messages with a device in hand||8%||16%|
|Reading text messages with a device in hand||14%||16%|
|Phoning with a device in hand||25%||16%|
|Call radio operation via on-board computer menu||58%||87%|
|Other handheld cell phone use (excluding being on the phone, reading and writing text messages, and navigating)||5%||22%|
The need to reduce distraction during driving has been the focus of OEMs for many years, but there was a problem. They quickly realised that this feature exceeded their capabilities, and much investment and R&D were required to provide a highly sophisticated infotainment system, fulfilling the desire to receive info while hands on the wheel and destroying boredom for the driver and passengers.
The trident of Google
It is no surprise that Google has been trying to make use of its Maps app easier in vehicles or is eager to become the leading infotainment provider for OEMs. For this goal, Google has released three technologies up to date:
- Android Auto, released in March 2015,
- Android Automotive, introduced in March 2017
- Google Automotive Services (GAS), the app package consisting of Android Automotive
Android Auto was the first step in eliminating the distraction of reaching out to smartphones while driving, providing access to all required apps by plugging the mobile device into a vehicle's USB port, thus minimising the touch interaction. The first step in facilitating navigation, media and voice driver assistance features such as voice commands faced a thorough development process as the app's user interface (UI) and design and its compliance with third-party apps improved over the years. But charging remained an important issue, making using Android Auto in vehicles still tricky.
The 2023 update made Android Auto more practical, and the split-screen dashboard provided better control and display while integrating third-party apps boosted satisfaction and Android's dominance. Unfortunately, the charging cable issue and connection problems continued, and was not compatible or fully synchronisable with the infotainment system of some cars.
Google scrapped Android Auto for smartphones in 2022 and made it available through Assistant Driving Mode, which blended with Maps later, knocking out the Android Auto dashboard. Today, you need a vehicle with a built-in dashboard to use Android Auto, activate it with Assistant Driving Mode, or try third-party apps.
Android Automotive emerged to eliminate smartphone use in cars and launched as an operating system (OS), thus directly entering the domain of OEMs. Developed for connected in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, Android Automotive debuted with Polestar 2 in 2020, later partnered with Volvo and Audi, and managed to hop in GM's cars.
Android Automotive dissolved the boundaries of smartphones and became the infotainment system of cars itself, thus delivering navigation, media and all other apps, including weather or vehicle information, without a device featuring them.
Google Automotive Services, aka GAS, is the latest and ultimate step in the evolution of Google's infotainment technologies. GAS serves as an application package, "a set of customer-specific and technical services that are precompiled by Google and provided through a licensing model", as Google describes it. The primary services provided by GAS include:
- Google Maps & Navigation: One of the most intelligent applications to seek addresses, routes and info about destinations.
- Google Assistant: Voice personal assistant.
- Google Playstore: Access to third-party applications.
- SetupWizard: Creating vehicle user-profiles and connectivity setup.
- Automotive Keyboard: A keyboard developed for the automotive industry to operate the touchscreen, supporting many languages.
Will Android dominate connected vehicles?
Android Auto dominated mobile devices, while Android Automotive OS helped Google services to integrate with vehicle infotainment systems. Now, GAS is eager to penetrate OEMs to become a built-in service by the manufacturers.
According to TechCrunch, Android Auto is expected to be available in around 200 million vehicles by the end of 2023, while Google also expects the number of car brands with built-in Google services to double by the end of the year, including Chevrolet, Renault, Volvo, Polestar and Honda. Google is also pushing YouTube to be available in all vehicles, starting with Polestar in May. It would be correct to say that Google will operate the in-cabin of most vehicles in the coming years.
The main image is courtesy of Shutterstock, 2066162186. The in-article image is courtesy of Google.