Commentary
3/20/2015
12:05 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary

Android Auto Revs Up As Google Courts Developers

Google released its Android Auto app for smartphones this week, and Pioneer added the platform to a handful of its head units.



6 Connected Vehicles Steal The Show At MWC
6 Connected Vehicles Steal The Show At MWC
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Android Auto is finally here. Google first revealed the platform at its I/O developer conference in June. This week, Google made an Android Auto app available to smartphones, while its partner added Android Auto to its aftermarket receivers.

Together, they allow Android users to access select features from their dashboard rather than their phone. Google hopes developers will pitch in and make their apps compatible with Android Auto. 

The Android Auto app is available from the Google Play Store. It is only compatible with devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop and up, which means many of today's phones won't be able to use it just yet. In order for Android Auto to work, drivers need the app and a compatible car and/or head unit. Pioneer stepped up to the plate and announced three receivers for the US market (models AVIC-8100NEX, AVIC-7100NEX, and AVH-4100NEX) that support Android Auto.

People who have older cars can add Android Auto if they choose to install one of Pioneer's head units.

(Image: Google)

(Image: Google)

Android Auto offers four key functions:

  • The first is navigation. Android Auto ports Google Maps to the screen of the in-car information center where it offers turn-by-turn navigation with lane guidance, live traffic conditions, points of interest, and other data.
  • Second is hands-free phone and messaging. Users will be able to make calls and dictate messages without taking their hands off the wheel.
  • Third, Android Auto offers information and assistance through Google Now. It will offer weather, traffic, commute, and other information on easy-to-scan cards.
  • The fourth and final is Android Auto, which supports music playback. Drivers will be able to listen to their music and playlists through their car's stereo system. It can integrate with steering wheel controls for managing volume and other functions.

These native functions are all that Android Auto does out of the box, but developers can join the fun if they wish. Google released the Android Auto SDK in November. It contains two APIs for developers: messaging and music.

With the Android Auto APIs, existing messaging and music apps can be made compatible with Android Auto in quick fashion. Messaging apps, for example, will be able to display and read incoming notifications out loud and permit drivers to respond via dictation. Google has already partnered with marquee messaging and music apps to get the ball rolling. Expect to see Android Auto apps from WhatsApp, TextMe, NPR, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify soon. Google said more Android Auto APIs are on the way.

With Android Auto now available, Google is courting developers with an extensive series of guides and tools to get started.

[Read about Google's big projects for 2015.]

Android Auto competes with Apple's CarPlay technology and the OS-agnostic MirrorPlay technology. All three strive to make smartphone functions easier -- and safer -- to access from behind the wheel. CarPlay has yet to launch, but MirrorPlay is available from select aftermarket receivers. Earlier this month, Apple said more than 40 new models will ship with CarPlay on board this year.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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