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Google and Fiat-Chrysler will show off Android-as-a-car-OS concept

Google says it's "committed to building Android as a turn-key automotive platform."

Ron Amadeo
/ This is the current version of Uconnect, but the Android version should look a lot like this.
FCA
At CES 2017, Google and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) are demoing a concept infotainment system based on Android 7.0 Nougat. This isn't the first time Android has been twisted into a car infotainment OS, but it is one of the first times Google is heavily involved in the process. The project is the next step of Google's "Android Automotive" initiative—a version of Android built as a car infotainment OS.
Remember "Android Automotive" is a different product from "Android Auto." Android Auto isn't an operating system. Like Apple's CarPlay, it's a "projected" car interface—the software runs on the phone and uses the car screen as an external monitor. "Android Automotive" is Google's plan to make Android into a fully-fledged car operating system.
Google's plan would be to sell Android to car OEMs exactly the same way it sells Android to phone OEMs. Google gives away the base operating system for free and entices OEMs with killer Google apps like Google Maps and the Play Store. The catch is that the Google apps are proprietary, and licensing them from Google means signing a contract to follow Google's compatibility rules and bundle all applicable Google services with the device. Phone OEMs that do this are part of the Open Handset Alliance, and Google is hoping that automakers will want to be active members of the Open Automotive Alliance.
With the Google/FCA project, we're seeing another analog to the world of smartphones: custom OEM skins. On this demo, Android sits hidden behind a wall of FCA's "Uconnect" interface. At Google I/O 2016, Google showed off a Maserati Quattroporte with an in-car Android OS, but that had a slick Material Design-inspired interface. That made it more like the "Nexus" (or Pixel) of cars—it was pure Google design showing what was possible. In the market, car manufacturers will want to replace this with a unique, branded interface, which is what FCA has done with Uconnect. With Uconnect functioning as basically the FCA version of Samsung's Touchwiz, this makes it the most realistic version of what a commercial Android distribution for cars would look like.
So what's the point of Google being involved if carmakers are just going to replace Google's interface? First, being based on Android 7.0 means this is a rare infotainment system that is using a semi-current version of Android. Vehicle development pipelines are several years long, so car manufacturers that roll their own Android infotainment system often ship versions that are woefully out of date. Honda and Hyundai, for instance, both ship Android-based infotainment systems today, but they're using Android versions from 2012.
Google's Director of Android Engineering Patrick Brady says Google is "committed to building Android as a turn-key automotive platform," and presumably with Google's involvement there will also some kind of plan for updating the OS after the sale. While updating Android on phones is a continual problem compared to iOS (and really, any other major operating system), even Android's current system would be a huge improvement over the way the auto industry does things.
The other benefit of involving Google is that slew of killer Google apps. FCA's Uconnect system is "built for connectivity and compatibility with the universe of popular Android applications"—it's the first car OS with the Google Assistant built-in, and it comes preloaded with Google Maps. It also features "popular Android apps" like Pandora, Spotify, NPR One, and Pocket Casts. In the future, Google will also have to build some kind of app store if the usual Android playbook is anything to go by.
This is the second time Fiat-Chrysler has teamed up with an Alphabet subsidiary. FCA is also making a fleet of self-driving minivans with Waymo, the newly-renamed self-driving car division of Alphabet. The new "concept" infotainment system is built inside a Chrysler 300, and it will be on display at CES. The show floor opens January 5.
Google and Fiat-Chrysler will show off Android-as-a-car-OS concept Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 7:19 PM Rating: 5

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