Google’s Android Auto platform has grown significantly over the past few years, and the company has also been working on a native solution with some car makers. Today, an interview with Patrick Brady, the head of Android Auto at Google, reveals quite a few new details on the platform.

Sitting down with The Verge at CES 2019, Brady spoke regarding a wide variety of topics. I’d encourage you to check out the full interview for some more details, but we’ve picked out some of the new bits of information below.

‘Android Automotive’ is actually just called Android Auto

If you’ve heard about Google’s work in bringing Android to the built-in system in cars, you’ve probably heard of it called “Android Automotive.” While that’s still confusing, Brady’s input is the first proper terminology we’ve heard about this project. He says that Google refers to this as “native” or “embedded” Android Auto or just Android. Android Auto with a tethered phone is referred to as “projected.”

Native Android Auto might be in a whole lot of cars

Google’s work in building native Android system into cars has really only been detailed for Volvo, Mitsubishi, and Renault-Nissan vehicles. That’s a huge number of cars, but apparently, we could see it on an even wider scale. Brady says:

We have just tremendous adoption for Android as an embedded system in the car. So we have carmakers now that represent over 50 percent of annual car volumes that are adopting Android as the built-in system.

It’s unclear what car makers are bringing this total so high, but Brady does also mention in this interview that “a couple other companies” have yet to be announced. He also mentions that Honda has previously looked into using forked Android versions in their cars, so perhaps Google’s new turnkey solution has piqued their interest? We’ll have to wait and see.

Native Android Auto in a Volvo

Google Assistant could have very tight integration in cars equipped w/ native Android Auto

As cars get more technically advanced, a lot of key systems are turning to the software. With the help of native Android Auto, it seems that Google Assistant could play a huge role in controlling various aspects of your vehicle.

We certainly want them accessible through software because you can do things now with Google Assistant and some of these cars that we’re integrated with. You can say “turn on the wipers…” So you don’t want a physical switch because then you actually have to actuate that through software.

Aftermarket stereos aren’t off-limits for native Android Auto

New cars get all the fun when it comes to tech like this, but those with older vehicles can bring those systems to their vehicles with aftermarket head units.

According to Brady, these systems aren’t off the table for native Android Auto just as they support projected Android Auto. He does say, though, that these systems aren’t high on the priority list as building Android Auto into a standard car system since they can’t integrate as tightly into the car’s systems.

One of the primary benefits of building it into the car is the deep integration you can have with all the advanced systems in new cars. And those aftermarket systems, there’s only so much integration they can actually do in those systems. And so to really stretch the platform and take advantage of all the deep integration, you work with the carmakers.

Apps that work on native Android Auto are ‘extensively’ reviewed

The biggest benefit to native Android Auto versus a traditional infotainment system is that users can download and run apps from Google Play. To ensure a secure ecosystem,  though, Google apparently runs these apps through an extensive review process.

We have a lot of conversations with carmakers on how we’re going to secure the platform and the ecosystem. All the apps that are there are uploaded to the Play Store for Automotive go through extensive review to make sure we’re not going to introduce anything that’s potentially harmful.

Android Auto ‘projection’ in a Subaru Impreza

Google is working to ensure OTA updates are easy

It’s no secret at all that fragmentation is a big problem with Android on smartphones, and given how car makers treat their software, it seems like a prime culprit for fragmentation. However, Google is apparently working closely with its partners to ensure that updates from Android Pie to Q and R will be relatively easy.

All carmakers are moving to building connectivity, and they’re moving to software over-the-air updates. It’s what consumers want. I think it’s what the carmakers want. They can now push fixes for issues instead of having to have everyone come into a dealership. So that’s the trend, that’s where things are going regardless. And we love it because it means, again, we want to increase the pace of innovation. So it’s not just fixing bugs and things like that, or security issues, but also delivering new features.

We’re working with — especially with the partners that we’re working most closely with like Volvo and Renault-Nissan and some others — working with them to ensure that, even if they ship their initial system on Android P, they can very quickly upgrade to Android Q, to Android R, and keep those things up to date, and push them out to users over the air.

Native Android Auto doesn’t mean ‘projection’ is going anywhere

Just because Google is putting a lot of work into building Android Auto directly into car systems, that doesn’t mean the Android Auto currently available is going anywhere. To quote Brady, “it’s a big thing.” Auto has expanded to a ton of new cars and it even influences purchases, so the platform isn’t being abandoned by any means, even given Google’s track record.

Projection’s not going away. I mean we’re in a serious number of cars on the road now. So it’s a big thing. And it’s something that now consumers are making purchase decisions around, and that they expect to be there. If you remember when Bluetooth was first rolling out in cars, now it’s like, you would never buy a car without Bluetooth.

Google I/O may deliver some big updates for Android Auto (everywhere)

With Google I/O around the corner, a lot of new software announcements are expected. Apparently, a new UI revamp could be in the works for Android Auto to take advantage of new screen types.

On the Android Auto side, on projection, we have a lot of new things coming, including the UI revamp, like I said, to take advantage of the larger, taller screens, things like that. We’re super excited about that. On the embedded side, working with Volvo and Polestar and Renault-Nissan and a couple other companies that haven’t yet announced, to get the first cars to production. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re pretty excited about it. We hope to show some more previews and sneak peeks of those coming up at Google I/O in May

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Ben Schoon

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