The native Android Auto saga has a long and winding road, but we’re approaching the finish line. Google’s custom-built applications for automobiles, now called Android Automotive OS and not to be confused with standard Android Auto mirrored from your smartphonewas first declared a couple of years back as a kind of compromise with an auto industry that realized it could never build software as great as Silicon Valley.
It’s taken various forms s transferred from retrofitted Volvo infotainment systems to new, custom displays. And behind closed doors, it’s gone through innumerable iterations that have never seen the public attention, as Google has done a careful dance allowing automakers have some control of the design while it works closely alongside component suppliers to make sure the in-car touchscreen systems are up to snuff.
Yet now, at Google’s I/O developer conference this season, we’re getting our first glimpse at what this now-polished software might look like at its closing, consumer form. To show off the latest version of Android Automotive, Google and Volvo trotted from the new Polestar two , an all-electric luxury performance vehicle designed to compete with Tesla.
To be fair, it’s a prototype version of the vehicle running a prototype version of Android Automotive. But the two companies couldn’t have picked a showcase for the applications ’s iteration. The center screen is a large, tablet-sized 11-inch display reminiscent of Tesla&rsquo. Polestar assembled an 12-inch second screen that sits above the steering wheel and mirrors info from Google Maps. Everything works together in a manner that all automobile applications, in an ideal world, should be designed, if the automobile industry had the decades of applications experience that Google does.
The whole system is intuitive in a way that goes beyond standard Android Auto, which received an update last week to make it easier and easier to use, but remains largely mirroring info from your phone in a less distracting manner. Android Automotive, on the other hand, can be used without a smartphone. More critically, it can control functions of the automobile — like other key features that are mechanical and adjusting steering, braking, and temperature from the center system and through voice, thanks to Google Assistant.
We saw a bit of this at a net preview Polestar released earlier this year, but seeing it at the car itself creates a more convincing argument that this isn’t a Frankenstein blend of Google and automobile applications, but a well-thought-out hybrid of both.
The Polestar two is a perfect showcase for the power of Android Automotive
The Polestar 2 was just officially announced back at the end of February, and it won’t go . But it’s going to be the first automobile to officially get Android Automotive OS using a verified suite of Google Play apps, including Google Maps. Other automakers, like Fiat Chrysler and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, have signed on to use the applications in new vehicles, and Audi is the only other carmaker alongside Volvo to have declared an early partnership with Google back in 2017.
That means the Polestar 2 has the most up-to-date version of the software in what we’re is near its final form. This past year, we watched a version of Android Automotive on a Volvo XC40, but it’s radically different today and made for the newer vertical infotainment displays that seem ready to take over the luxury car space and trickle down to mid-tier vehicles at time.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
At a broader level, this is only one more chapter in the continuing battle to control the vehicle. Unlike the home appliance business, which mostly ceded control to the largest players in technology to take over the wise house with products of their own, the automobile industry has a leg up on Silicon Valley: tech companies can’t build products as complex as automobiles, and even attempts from companies as well-funded and determined as Apple have led to failures and pivots. Even Tesla, which fancies itself a technology company, is still a carmaker at heart, in regards to applications and touchscreens and the one automotive industry player to blaze its own course.
Meaning there’s a good deal of room for the automobile industry that is traditional as it partners with giants, to keep at least some of its power. We’re beginning to see a divide form between those that partner with Google and people opting for Automotive Grade Linux, an open-source project to let carmakers build their own applications without needing to hand the secrets to tech companies. But more so than CarPlay, which seems like it is going to stay a simple system for the iPhone, Android Automotive is set to be a legitimate competitor in the automobile market, particularly if the software stands out too well for other vehicles as it does for the Polestar 2.
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