My biggest gripe with most automakers is that the infotainment software that runs the radio, Bluetooth, navigation and pretty much everything digital, is outdated and more than a few steps behind smartphones and computers. Thankfully, Google has been on track to change that with Android Automotive, and the latest reference designs are stunning.
To be clear, Android Automotive is a set of software built on top of Android to replace infotainment systems in cars. On the other hand, Android Auto is a phone-based app that can play over your existing infotainment. The draw of Android Automotive is that you don’t need to use your phone as much, and the car can just run Android apps and interact with Google Assistant and Maps.
There are only two versions of Android Automotive out in the world. Volvo has a version in the XC40 Recharge, and Polestar has a slightly different version in the Polestar 2. However, both versions are based on Android 10, so they’re still a little dated. They also use a very Volvo-esque design language, so parts of the software like changing climate controls, are still done through a menu that looks a little outdated.
The new Android 12-based version of the software has improved support for traditional style controls like sliders, dials and other nudge-based controls. The suggests that Google’s software design might one day cover all of the infotainment, hopefully, unifying the in-car software design quite a bit. This new version also seems purpose-built for larger displays with a more tablet-style two-column design within some pages.
It’s still unclear when this will roll out, whether automakers will adopt it and if they’ll cover it with their own software skin like Volvo and Polestar do. However, GM and Ford are planning to use Android Automotive, and Volo will continue to innovate on its take on the software as well.
What’s nteresting is that Google rolled out the Android Automotive platform over a year ago, and Apple has yet to fire back with something of its own that moves beyond the capabilities of CarPlay. There are a lot of rumours surrounding a potential “Apple car.” If these reports are accurate, I expect this vehicle to run proprietary software. I can’t see Apple sitting back and letting Google take over the car software space.