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Google announces Android-based infotainment OS and enhancements to Android Auto

19 May 2016 IHS Markit Automotive Expert

Google has announced at its annual software developers' conference, Google I/O, that Android N, the latest version of Android, has an auto-centric variant that can be used in infotainment operating systems. Google also announced updates to Android Auto, including Waze mapping.

IHS Automotive Perspective

  • Significance: Google announced at its software developers' conference, Google I/O, that Android N (the latest version of Android) has an auto-centric variant that can be used in infotainment operating systems (OS), as well as announcing additional features and apps for the Android Auto service. Google also demonstrated Android N on a Maserati Quattroporte.
  • Implications: Google has taken a step forward in offering automakers a strong OS option for in-vehicle infotainment systems. For automakers, the flexibility to leverage their own HMI overlay is an important aspect of Android N, as with other OS options, as ensuring the interface is consistent with a brand's DNA and strategic objectives remains an important differentiator. However, there is no indication that the selection of a Maserati for the reference vehicle is a precursor to any specific future FCA-Google relationship.
  • Outlook: The Google announcement has been long anticipated by IHS Automotive. It will have a significant impact on the growing importance of Linux-based operating systems in embedded electronic components in cars and on the app ecosystem of the Android Auto program, according to IHS Automotive technology analysts Egil Juliessen and Colin Bird, making the OS more attractive to automakers and ensuring the Android Auto middleware delivers the features that users are asking for, thereby increasing demand.

Google has announced at its annual software developers' conference, Google I/O, which started yesterday (18 May) in San Francisco, California, United States, that Android N, the latest variant of Android, has an auto-centric variant that can be used in infotainment operating systems (OS). The technology giant also announced additional features and apps for the Android Auto service.

Android N is a full Linux-based OS that can be used on a variety of devices, including smartphones and car infotainment systems. Android Auto is middleware that can be used on any infotainment system to interact with Android smartphone apps via the car's HMI components. This makes it easier to use Android apps as they have fewer driver distractions. The Android N OS and Android Auto are expected to work seamlessly together but they are not the same product.

At the conference event, Google showed off the capabilities of its Android N OS in a reference in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) concept system in a Maserati Quattroporte, featuring a 15-inch screen and high-definition digital instrument cluster. Qualcomm announced that the system was powered by its Snapdragon 820 chip. Google will freely offer the Google-designed interface to automakers to use in their cars but carmakers can design their own HMI over the Android N OS, as is common with other rich infotainment OS software solutions. It should be noted that Android N is not the final name, and Google seeking suggestions; a final name will be announced later.

Relative to the Android Auto middleware system, Google also announced that it will add the traffic program Waze to its navigation portfolio. Android Auto will also now work as a standalone app in cars. This will allow drivers with no infotainment system or older, low capability systems to mount their phone and still receive the benefits of Android Auto.

Outlook and implications

This announcement by Google has been long anticipated by IHS Automotive. It will have a significant impact on the growing importance of Linux-based operating systems in embedded electronic components in the car and on the app ecosystem of the Android Auto program, according to IHS Automotive technology analysts Egil Juliessen (senior director and principal analyst) and Colin Bird (senior analyst), making the OS more attractive to automakers and ensuring the Android Auto middleware delivers the features that users are clamouring for, thereby increasing demand.

The analysts have written that the open and customisable nature of Android allows it to be used for multiple applications outside of smartphones and tablets − many infotainment systems are already powered by Android, including some systems in recently announced Honda and Renault vehicles. We expect that Android's automotive embedded system will build off Android Auto features and offer a variety of apps and Google services from which OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers can select for their branded IVI systems. An automaker's ability to determine what is appropriate for its IVI − and the ability to display with its HMI − are expected to be important from a brand and vehicle development standpoint.

General Motors (GM) and Harman have earlier announced a tie-up to build Android-based infotainment systems for GM vehicles. This USD900-million agreement will produce a new next-generation infotainment system powered by Android by the end of 2016.

The addition of Waze to Android Auto is very important as the major screen projection systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, have so far relegated the user to only the native Apple or Google map application, but the Waze application has tremendous popularity. Google parent Alphabet is even using the Waze platform for its pilot car-pooling program for its huge user base.

According to the latest IHS Automotive Connected Car Consumer Survey (April 2016), 67% of respondents globally reported using their smartphone as a navigation aid or to find points of interest while driving; therefore, allowing customers to use different navigation apps will enhance the use and popularity of screen projection solutions.

IHS expects that the addition of Waze and the ability to use Android Auto as a standalone app will dramatically increase the potential number of Android Auto app users. With the increased potential customer base, we also expect many more apps will be announced for Android Auto. We also expect many of those apps will seamlessly work with Android's IVI OS system. Google said that more than 100 vehicle models already have Android Auto enabled and that another 100 models will be enabled by the end of the year. Furthermore, Google has added Wi-Fi capability to Android Auto, something Apple added last year to its system. A wireless connection is important pairing function for these solutions as consumers are less likely to pair if it requires a USB, according to findings from the IHS Automotive consumer survey.

Android N OS for infotainment will take an increasing market share after 2017, which could reach 35% globally sometime after 2020. It will consolidate the many Linux OS versions to two − Android N OS and GENIVI-compliant OS (and potentially a Chinese-centric Linux variant, such as YunOS, which is essentially a forked version of Android). It is likely to become primarily a battle between QNX, GENIVI Linux, and Android Linux. Android N OS will hasten the phase-out of the auto version of Microsoft Windows Embedded and other proprietary OS products. QNX is well prepared for an infotainment Android N OS because BlackBerry has developed a software emulation of Android APIs. This means that QNX can co-exist with Android Auto and Android N OS better than its competitors in most cases, but IHS expects the QNX commanding share of infotainment OS to decline somewhat by the introduction of Android N.

Although Google and Qualcomm used a Maserati for the reference vehicle, there is no indication that its use is a precursor to a specific future relationship between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Google − FCA does not seem to have been involved in the presentation of the Maserati and, at the time of writing, has not issued any statement indicating involvement in the reference vehicle. FCA has agreed to work with Google to integrate Google's autonomous driving system to 100 units of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan (see United States: 4 May 2016: Google and FCA partner to develop Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid self-driving vehicles). While FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has suggested the Pacifica relationship might only be the beginning (see United States: 9 May 2016: FCA CEO says Google link-up may only be the start of the relationship), Google has a history of working with more than one manufacturer. Whether these two companies work together on future projects likely depends on how the Pacifica project goes. It may just be the beginning, or it may not.

Note: The IHS Automotive Connected Car Survey was based on 4,003 respondents from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and China who plan to purchase a new vehicle in the next three years.

About this article

The above article is from IHS Automotive Same-Day Analysis of automotive news, events and trends, and is a deliverable of the World Markets Automotive Service. The service averages thirty stories per day and also provides competitor and country intelligence. Get a free trial.

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