Google didn't bring a car onstage during its Google IO keynote to introduce Android Auto, but it did bring part of a car - the dashboard, to be exact.
"We've redesigned the Android platform for automotive," Google Android Director of Engineering Patrick Brady said as he introduced the platform.
And all was revealed when Google Android for Automotive Product Manager Andrew Brenner appeared onstage inside an actual car cockpit - detached from the rest of the car - to show Android Auto live in action.
Brady said that 25% of accidents in the US are caused by drivers "fumbling with gadgets behind the wheel."
But with smart contextual features and pervasive voice commands, Android Auto is designed to make it safe to use features normally tied to your phone while driving.
Front-and-center are navigation, communication, music, and other forms of streaming media, Brady said.
When Brenner plugged an Android phone into the dashboard the Android Auto UI, a familiar-looking Android touch OS appeared on the car's screen. He put on some music using Google Play and discovered and navigated to a destination using Google Maps.
Brady emphasized that Android Auto users will have access to all the features they're used to in these apps. These features will be accessible not just through the touchscreen and voice commands, but also using other interfaces like vehicles' steering wheel media buttons.
Brenner also sent a text ("I have no wheels!") using only voice commands.
Fellowship of the car
Google has not been developing these features in a vacuum. Android Auto was made possible by the Open Automotive Alliance that Google announced early in 2014, which means there are plenty of partners in the auto industry already onboard.
Twenty-five car brands have committed to shipping cars with Android Auto in the future, and the first vehicles with the Android interface built-in will hit the market by the end of 2014. The alliance is growing, too, according to Brady, who said that 40 new partners have joined.
Google also revealed that the Android Auto SDK will become available "soon," and Brady said using it to develop Android apps for cars will be as easy as making smartphone and tablet apps. The SDK will launch with APIs for audio and messaging apps included.
So that's Android Auto. It looks like it will definitely give CarPlay a run for its money. Plus, we're thankful that it isn't actually called Google Auto Link.
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