Google has taken a major step toward turning Android into a complete operating system for cars that doesn’t require the use of a phone. The company announced partnerships with Audi and Volvo today, ahead of this week’s I/O developer’s conference, that will see those carmakers build new branded infotainment systems using Android 7.0 Nougat.
The manufacturer-tweaked versions of Google’s operating system will power the cars’ main touchscreen displays, as well as the digital dashboards behind the steering wheel. They will add new services like Google Assistant to the apps and integrations already available on Android Auto. But Android will now also control basic functions like heating and cooling, seat position, or opening and closing the windows. (It won’t go as far as controlling critical safety systems like brakes, though, according to Google.) Volvo says it plans to launch its Android on new models within two years, while Audi will show its version off in the new Audi Q8 Sport concept.
Taking over a car’s entire infotainment system — as opposed to just running on top of the one created by the manufacturer — has always seemed to be the endgame for Google’s initial efforts with Android Auto. Google has been reportedly working on it as far back as late 2014, when a report in Reuters indicated that the software giant was aiming to turn Android Auto into something that could control a car’s systems and wouldn’t require a smartphone.
Google officially exposed those ambitions at last year’s I/O conference when it showed off a Maserati Ghibli with a 4K, 15-inch vertical center touchscreen that was running a version of Android that could control everything from the radio to the HVAC system. This past January, Google and Fiat Chrysler (the parent company of Maserati) announced they were working on combining FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system with Android 7.0 Nougat — an apparent precursor to today’s news.
At that time, Google said this automotive version of Android would still be open source, and that it wouldn’t necessarily lock out Apple’s CarPlay (or even the Android Auto app). That still appears to be the case. Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering for Android, told Bloomberg News that Apple's CarPlay would still be able to run on top of this new embedded Android system. And a representative for Volvo tells The Verge that there is “no change in functionality with regards to CarPlay, nor is there a change in the many partners with whom we collaborate.”