Why do we need smartphone integration, anyway?
In the Open Automotive Alliance's introductory press release, the group refers to the Android platform as an "ecosystem," not just once, but several times. This choice of phrase reveals a little about how they're thinking: Android is not just for phones and tablets anymore. The car, they say, is truly a "mobile device," which is the next logical step to show how everything that runs on Android is part of the same system and is designed to work together.
Though smartphone integration is the most visible problem for Google and the Open Automotive Alliance, the group has other goals. Google wants automakers to think about using Android-based software to power vehicle infotainment systems -- the computers that control a car's numerous audio options, smartphone syncing, navigation systems, automatic climate controls, rear-seat DVD players and whatever else car designers come up with. The latest generation of these systems, which still feel like a pretty new revelation with their touch screens, split-screen features and a variety of available apps, are already in danger of becoming obsolete [source: Vance]. That's because smartphones have improved so much in the last few years that hopping into a car and quickly syncing up a smartphone provides most of the features offered by these cars' built-in systems. Need navigation for your trip? No problem. It's a free or inexpensive app on smartphones; however, navigation is a feature that can sometimes cost thousands of dollars to be built into a new car. Prefer Pandora radio to your car's CD player? Sure, it's right there on the phone. But all of this is bad news for auto manufacturers. They like that these (and similar) systems are high-cost add-ons -- options like those are usually a reliable source of profit on a new car purchase. Offering a feature-rich, yet elegant, interface can provide a much-needed edge over a competitor's model.
To succeed, Google must make some convincing arguments to win over a lot of auto manufacturers:
- Android is easy to customize to their specific needs
- It will be reliable enough to handle new car features that haven't even been implemented yet
- Advertising an Android-based center console will be appealing to a lot of new car buyers
Success here will gain a big advantage over Apple and other competitors, increasing the likelihood that whatever new car someone chooses, the car itself will be dependent on a version of the smartphone software that Google is trying to get into more peoples' hands.
Last June, Apple announced its own mobile integration partnership, called iOS in the Car, designed to get Apple's iOS operating platform into as many vehicles as possible. Apple has commitments from a much larger group of automakers, including Honda and Hyundai. It's unclear how Honda and Hyundai's dual allegiance will play out. And, on a related note, there are a lot of rumors swirling about Apple and Tesla, ranging from the likelihood that Apple might develop software for Tesla's 17-inch touch screen center console, to the possibility that Apple might actually be interested in acquiring the automaker. If that eventually happens, it could lead to some interesting new challenges for Google.