Will automakers embrace of Android aid drivers or just Google?

Will automakers embrace of Android aid drivers or just Google?

Summary: The auto industry fell in love with Android at CES 2014. Questions abound and Ford still controls more of its in-car technology destiny.


The biggest takeaway from CES 2014 may be that most of the auto industry plans on delivering next-gen driving experiences by relying mostly on technology that runs through Google somehow.

Consider the following:

audi virtual cockpit
A look at Audi's virtual cockpit. Credit: CNET's Wayne Cunningham

You could also add one more takeaway: Most of these Android and Google partnerships are designed to play catch-up with Ford, which since 2007 has been working on the in-car driving experience and is way ahead of rivals on the tech front.

Also see: CNET's CES Car Tech coverage

Carmakers are betting that technology can change the driving experience and more importantly alter the customer relationship. Let's face it. Most cars these days are comparable on quality. Design sells and brand loyalty to a degree. If automakers can foster lock-in via technology features---picture a customer saying "well my smartphone apps work with my Ford"---then there's a different conversation. Instead of selling two consecutive cars to a family perhaps a carmaker can sell to generations of digital-native folks.

Driving is and will become even more computerized.

But there's little chance that these high-tech car dreams are going to go perfectly smooth. Consider the following wrinkles:

  1. GM will have three platforms in its line of cars with the addition of Android.
  2. Automakers will customize Android heavily---GM will meld Android and its OnStar system.
  3. Integration of systems will be everything and it's unclear all of these automakers will have the tech skills.
  4. Automakers will have different app stores.
  5. It's unclear how all this Android in cars is going to appeal to folks that happen to have Apple iOS powered devices.
  6. And finally automakers are going to have to balance ceding control of the driving experience to Google and trying to up sell their own unique features. It's going to be tricky. Very tricky.

If you add it up it's clear that CES 2014 was a key moment for in-car technology, but most of the advantages still go to Ford. Ford filled in a lot of blanks with AppLink, a developer network that'll be expanded to more cars. More importantly from a business model perspective is that Ford has something unique with its Sync franchise and has control of the ecosystem.

Not surprisingly, Ford CTO Paul Mascarenas isn't freaked out by all this Android talk. He's all for standards and has chatted with the Open Auto Alliance. Mascarenas told CNET he likes---no loves---the concept behind the group. And why not? Mascarenas gets it. The driver/consumer doesn't care about the back end integration. The win revolves around content and customer experience.

ford cockpit
Ford's AppLink powered cockpit. Credit: Ford


Ultimately, Ford has more control over the experience with its customers and the profit margins associated with them.

Perhaps Android takes the auto industry by storm and transforms it. But that outcome isn't going to happen without a few information technology headaches along the way. There's a very slim chance that these automakers are all going to pull off the integration behind these technology dreams flawlessly. 

Topics: Android, Apps, Emerging Tech, Google

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  • We all want integration ...

    And this makes sense in the context of Big Data.

    I want my car to know where I am, where I'm going, how long it will take, whether I need gas, comfort breaks, message my wife when I hit traffic etc. And then I want my car to know when I get there, open the garage door for me ... hell - I want it to warm up the coffee and turn on the central heating too :-)
    • User Interaction and Standards

      Mayhap this will also help Ford. They may be the current "leader" but Sync still feels like it has progressed minimally since 2007.
      A good one word descriptor would be "clunky".

      Then their is Apple. Sigh.
    • Maybe not quite that much

      Since you're there in the car, you probably don't need it to do statistical analysis on routing (you'll have as good of an idea as the car will). And your wife would much rather hear from you (that's what Bluetooth is for) than from your car.
      John L. Ries
    • Your phone can already do all that

      The one thing the automakers are up against is the smartphone.
      With just a bluetooth OBD connection, a smartphone transforms into carputer and can communicate with all the buses in modern car systems.
      Furthermore, it moves from car to car with you so when you move to another car, it works exactly the same with all your settings without any syncing.
      I would like the automakers to embrace smartphones as well as these embedded android systems. All they need is a standard to identify the car and features and then it could automatically download their app to work with the car on your phone and the process is total plug and play.
      Carputers have been developed for a long time but they have not kept up with mobile technology or made good use of it.
    • I want my car to...

      Tell me when I'm low on gas (relative to the ability to navigate to a gas station!), and to navigate me to a station with the cheapest gas within a x miles of my route.

      fuel status, vehicle location, refill options, gas buddy pricing, GPS navigation.

      It's not rocket science!
  • Security?

    How are Google and the manufacturers going to cope with security?

    We already have the problem that many phones stop getting security updates after 6 months or so, which is bad enough on a 2 year contract, but what will Google do for 10 year old cars?

    That is a very different proposition for them, most people can't write off a car every 2 years and purchase a new one, and even then it generally goes onto the second hand market. I don't really fancy driving around in a 5 year old car that has dozens of known security holes in its onboard computer!

    Hopefully they won't be stupid enough to connect up the EMU computer to the Android console device!
    • Why do you say that?

      IF a vulnerability exists that can cause the users data to be compromised, pretty much every phone I've had, got a small update even if it wasn't a whole new version of the OS. Also, Apps get security updates all the time and this includes the Google Apps (That's partly why they're separate from Android to begin with).
      • My S3

        went about 10 months between updates, despite known security bugs being reported in 4.1. They finally released 4.3 for it a week ago, that was over 10 months of known security issues and that on the previous generation flagship phone.

        Now imagine that on a 3 generation old car...
        • Depends on the security bugs

          Google is providing constant and seamless updates to devices through the Google Play Services. If the bug can be fixed through it, then the updates are even faster and seamless than Apple's fixes. If the defect is outside Play Services, then it will not get fixed until an OS update which is a huge problem in Android.

          I'm not in favor of moving OS features into Play Services. It violates the openness of Android as it reduces core Android and moves it into Google's Android. That's not good. But if Google were to take the approach of Play Services to a Security Service, then this problem would get resolved without (unfortunately) a fix to the update problem.
        • Your S3 has a million updates

          If You care to use Samsung's Check Fus firmware database.
          Just because your lame service provider didn't gift wrap it over the air for you doesn't mean it wasn't updated.
          Cars get serviced, no excuse for the servicing dealers not to updates especially since they could charge you for the service.
      • Hey slick - what phone do you own?

        I ask because the only smartphone OEM that I know of that provides such updates is Apple and you've been very rabidly anti-Apple so I'm a bit puzzled here. As I do not own a WP device I've never really paid attention to their update frequency.

        wright_is has a point with Android - it takes forever for the OEMs and carriers to allow updates to filter down. I recall it took several months for HTC and VZW to finally send ICS to the then-flagship device the HTC Thunderbolt. This is one of the advantages that Apple has over the rest - not having to go through OEMs or carriers to update or patch the OS.

        The only way I can see Android integrated into vehicles and not be a huge security hazard is to take a page from Apple's playbook and limit the sources of apps - say in GM's case have an ONStar App market that thoroughly vets apps to ensure that no malware is allowed to slip through and not allow and other source for apps.

        It's too bad that the OS devs (Apple, Google, Microsoft) can't or won't offer modified version of their OS to use in vehicles to all of the car manufacturers - that way if one prefers to have iOS in their Ford, Android in their Toyota, or WP in their Chevy they can.
        • The problem

          isn't the apps, or not just the apps. Security issues in the OS itself, which don't get patched are a hazard, especially if the car is connected to the internet or has its own bluetooth or wifi hotspots in the vehicle.
        • rubbish

          Android updates are 90 percent delayed by telcos. There is no such problem in car gear, even if the car has hotspot tech included it doesn't require telco approval for updates. Also, with each new version of android Google is moving to a self patching system provided by the admin right Google play system service. Pretty soon it will be fully self patching like chromebooks.
        • OS Updates don't = security

          Even Apple does NOT update iOS devices anywhere NEAR the life of an automobile. Additionally, in most hacker conferences I read about, iOS devices are hacked into in record time and easier than others.

          What *should* happen here folks is that the automanufacturers provide an industry standard connection to a relatively "dumb" system perhaps with APIs and provide the software to drive it through smart phones. Not only can updates be provided in a timely fashion, not only does it save yet ANOTHER DATA DEVICE on your plan, it also allows you to continue with security updates via a new phone once the old one has stopped being supported. This also would allow for a "personalized" driving session based on what authorized smart phone is being used. This whole idea of making the car smart when we all carry around perfectly able computing devices is redundant and foolish.
          • iOS Devices Updates

            "Even Apple does NOT update iOS devices anywhere NEAR the life of an automobile. "

            Apple will do frictionless updates over 3 to 5 years, the only stopper being old hw not having the required functionality.

            After that, Apple car support includes upgrading to new Apple devices (of course), so...

            Your car will have the latest and safest iOS sw for the life of the car.

            I hope Google will match that.
            pk de cville
          • "Your car will have the latest and safest iOS sw for the life of the car"

            ...with Apple involved, the definition of "life of the car" will be "about two years".

            Might as well lease vehicles with Apple gear installed, and never, ever, EVER buy a lease return with Apple gear.
          • Word

            How true. Or an update will come out at the 2 year mark that makes the system so slow that you need to replace it.
    • Whine

      Don't buy one then. Use a map, use a callbox, do whatever you have to but please stop whining.
  • Will automakers embrace of Android aid drivers or just Google?

    This is a way to drive up the cost of an automobile. If its running android I will not be buying it. No need for random reboots in my car.
    • Sad that Windows was deemed obsolete ..

      Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue.

      "Windows is everywhere ... but it doesn't know it's dead"