Android Auto -- the just-announced platform designed to bring Android to a car's in-dash infotainment system is Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) answer to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) CarPlay. While there are similarities between both platforms, Google's Android Auto undoubtedly offers some compelling features that help it rival the Apple's CarPlay. While the winning tech giant in the battle for the auto market may not be certain yet, one thing is clear: Automakers are finally waving goodbye to their control over the infotainment system and letting the players who know what they are doing take over.
Obviously critical to any new infotainment system, Android Auto masters voice control. The platform, Google says, is "completely voice enabled." Similar to how users talk to Siri to control CarPlay, Android Auto uses Google Now. And anyone who has used Google Now can attest to the excellent accuracy, speed, and usefulness of the voice-recognition software.
The platform offers Google-like familiarity, personalizing the experience with contextually aware notifications and apps using the same card-based design in the Google Now app.
Of course, Google relies heavily on one of its biggest assets: Google Maps and its monstrous database of location information. When the platform was demoed, a user asked the hours of a museum, listened to an audible response, and then commanded Android Auto to provide directions to the museum. It was seamless.
Google will release a software development kit, or SDK, in a few weeks so developers can get to work on new apps for the platform.
Not a religion converter
Similar to how Apple's CarPlay is reliant on an iPhone, Android Auto will require an Android phone. This means that Android Auto won't be playing the role of Google evangelist.
But should we ever expect Apple or Google to build a vehicle operating system platform that works independently from a phone? If Google's comments from the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year in Las Vegas still hold true, this is, indeed, Google's plan. The company emphasized that, beyond its plan for a vehicle infotainment system that works in conjunction with an Android phone, it is also working on Android platform features that enable the car itself to become a connected Android device.
But until Google shifts gears to invade vehicles without required use of an Android phone, Android Auto will be just as limited as CarPlay in converting "new believers."
The clearest conclusion of all from the event is that Google's Android Auto platform puts typical vehicle infotainment systems -- even the ones in many of the latest vehicles -- to shame. The vehicle infotainment system no longer belongs to auto manufacturers.
Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto are set to come soon to nearly every major auto brand.
No more going back in time every time we try to speak to the useless onboard voice recognition system!