Android Automotive OS review: Under the hood with Google’s car OS

Enlarge / Please do not really drive whereas sporting a large Android masks.

Aurich Lawson / Polestar

Can Google do to automotive infotainment what it did to smartphones?

Each automotive producer these days wants to incorporate an infotainment system with its automotive, and meaning growing an working system, making a UI that is not horrible, constructing an SDK and app ecosystem, and doing 1,000,000 different issues automotive producers haven’t usually wanted to do. Within the face of all that, Google is pulling out the Android smartphone playbook and tempting automotive producers with a car-specific model of Android, referred to as the “Android Automotive OS.”

“Allow us to construct your working system!” Google primarily tells the automotive producers. “We have got nice {hardware} and contact assist, third-party apps, and a well known developer SDK! We’ll present Google Maps, Google Assistant voice instructions, and the Play Retailer! We even replace the codebase with month-to-month safety updates! Better of all, for you, it is free! Simply signal this contract guaranteeing you may embrace all of our apps and providers.”

We have been masking the Google push into infotainment for the reason that idea was first demoed at Google I/O 2016, however now, precise business vehicles that includes Google’s working system are beginning to ship. The primary Android Automotive automotive (and the core of as we speak’s assessment) is the Polestar 2, an all-electric car from Volvo’s new subsidiary, Polestar. Volvo is also transport Android Automotive within the XC40 Recharge, and a ton of different corporations have signed up for Google’s infotainment system: Ford, GM, Stellantis (Dodge, RAM, Jeep, Fiat, Chrysler, Peugeot, Opel, and so on), and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. Regardless of your badge of choice, you are going to see much more of Android Automotive sooner or later.

Earlier than we shift this assessment into gear, we’ve got to present our common Google-is-terrible-at-branding disclaimer: Android Automotive is not Android Auto, Google’s projected automotive interface that serves as the corporate’s competitor to Apple’s Automotive Play. Android Auto runs in your smartphone and makes use of the automotive infotainment system as an exterior monitor. Your automotive’s inventory infotainment system nonetheless exists as… one thing else, it simply strikes out of the best way to your projected smartphone interface.

However, Android Automotive OS (AAOS) is completely totally different. It is the automotive infotainment system. We’re operating Android Automotive on the “naked steel” of the automotive. It controls not simply maps and media, however the air con, lights, trip settings, seat location, digital camera views, and most different automotive settings. You do not want a smartphone, since Android Automotive OS is put in on the automotive pc storage. An onboard model of the Play Retailer even allows you to obtain apps on to your automotive. The automotive is just like the world’s greatest Android system.

The rising tide of automotive infotainment?

Automotive infotainment software program continues to be a scorching mess of fragmented growth that’s virtually totally as much as the automotive producer to determine. By and enormous, every firm goes to market with a customized working system. And if we have a look at how the smartphone and PC markets have performed out, that doesn’t seem to be a viable long-term resolution. Dell, Lenovo, and HP do not make PC working programs, and Samsung, BBK, and Xiaomi do not make (successful) smartphone OSes. Apart from Apple, all these {hardware} corporations concentrate on {hardware}, and the OS is licensed from a software program home. The telephone and PC markets each began the place the automotive infotainment market is now, with {hardware} distributors all constructing a myriad of various software program options, however the demand for higher software and {hardware} assist has brought on each industries to coalesce round one or two OSes every.

Till the Android Automotive launch, there actually have not been any platform-building working system distributors providing options for the automotive infotainment market. The most important participant providing a succesful core OS is Blackberry’s QNX, however Blackberry is pitching QNX as “middleware” as an alternative of as an app platform. Blackberry’s app technique appears to firmly be “let another person cope with that,” with net apps and CarPlay/Android Auto as its app resolution. Microsoft used to supply a automotive OS, however its huge companion, Ford, bailed on the corporate for Google. Even then, Microsoft wasn’t pitching a full app ecosystem.

Google’s transfer into the automotive infotainment area as we speak feels lots like its transfer into the smartphone area in 2008. There are 1,000,000 totally different automotive producers all transport totally different working programs with no central app distribution system. Even when two corporations are utilizing comparable working programs, app builders nonetheless must assist, replace, and keep particular person apps for every producer platform. Pandora is a good instance of an app actually devoted to automotive assist—it has over 20 car brands listed on its assist web page. That quantity is a bit fluffed up because of corporations like GM sharing a platform throughout 4 automotive manufacturers, however it’s nonetheless a ridiculously excessive variety of apps to assist.

The Polestar 2, our big Android device.
Enlarge / The Polestar 2, our huge Android system.


Apart from QNX, automotive producers have been scraping collectively their very own options. A lot of corporations roll with a Linux distribution, both of their very own design—like Tesla (an infotainment stand-out) and BMW—or as a part of the Linux Basis’s “Automotive Grade Linux” mission, which is favored by Toyota. For the aim of this assessment, it is significantly attention-grabbing that there are loads of Android forks on the market powering infotainment with out Google’s involvement. Honda infotainment programs are all primarily based on Android, anyplace from version 4.0.4 to 6.0, whereas Hyundai and Kia are up to Android 4.2. GM’s new infotainment software program is based on Android 6.0, and the corporate messed it up so badly there may be a class-action lawsuit over the numerous points the system has. Executed effectively or not, these are all grossly out-of-date variations of Android.

On smartphones, Android will get a foul rap for the sluggish (and oftentimes nonexistent) rollout of updates from producers, with corporations like Samsung taking 3-6 months to roll out the most recent OS updates to its lineup. That is dangerous compared to iOS (and Pixel telephones, I suppose) with their day-one updates, however that might be an unimaginable enchancment for the automotive infotainment area. Android Automotive on the Polestar 2 relies on Android 10, an OS that’s solely a year-and-a-half previous (as an alternative of the 6- to 9-year-old model of Android that Honda, Hyundai, and GM are using). As of April 2021, the automotive bought its final safety replace in December 2020. Once more, that is dangerous for a telephone however manner higher than rolling round with eight years of bugs and safety vulnerabilities in your Android 4.2-powered Kia.

With Android Automotive, I do not suppose the purpose proper now’s to do a blow-by-blow characteristic comparability to different infotainment programs on the market. Franky, Android Automotive would lose. It is really a reasonably beta-feeling working system missing many options. You’d positively get a greater expertise from one thing like a Tesla, and I feel even Android Auto operating on a telephone is perhaps preferable.

As an alternative, what you get proper now’s a steady platform that seems like it’s constructed for the long run, versus the technological dead-ends that make up most fashionable automotive infotainment programs. This can be a strong model 1.0 OS that’s competently developed and maintained, with a centralized app retailer, a well known SDK, and one or two killer apps. Assuming Google doesn’t do the Google thing and inexplicably kill Android Automotive (on this case, they’re most likely contractually obligated to not do that), there will probably be a model 2 and three of this software program, together with a string of month-to-month safety updates. That package deal could be a lot, rather more than you’ll be able to say for many automotive working programs.

A single automotive producer’s infotainment system being good solely helps that automotive producer, however, identical to the Android-for-phones mannequin, Android Automotive generally is a rising tide that may elevate all boats. For all these automotive corporations that appear to not care all that a lot about infotainment, here’s a licensable working system that’s dramatically higher than the traditional codebases these corporations are shoveling out the door. It is simpler to get began, it comes with an app choice, and it is onerous to go improper with the headline-feature bullet level of “We have got Google Maps!”

The fundamentals of AAOS

Android Automotive has been in growth endlessly. Google worker LinkedIn profiles inform us the mission started in 2014. Internally at Google, Automotive has grown by “7 Android dessert releases,” most likely which means it has been round since not less than Android 5.0 Lollipop. On condition that the primary rumors pointed to an Android 6.0 Marshmallow (2015) launch, that checks out. Google has been sneaking automotive-centric options into mainline Android releases for years.

Right now, Android Automotive’s newest model you can really run, even on the emulator, relies on Android 10. Google posted launch notes for “Android Automotive 11” with some great-sounding options like searchable settings and multizone audio, however it’s not out there anyplace so far as we are able to inform. (When does the Google Pixel Automotive come out?) The Polestar 2 first shipped with Android 9, the primary business launch of Android Automotive, however that lasted a few month and was upgraded to model 10 in January 2021. Apparently, like Android TV or Put on OS, Google can do under-the-hood OS upgrades with out altering the above-board interface that a lot. Talking of these different Android kind issue spin-offs, it was a shock to see that Android Automotive is open source—you’ll be able to dig it out of the same old AOSP repo. I say it is a shock as a result of whereas Android for telephones is famously open supply, Android TV, Android Issues (RIP), and Put on OS usually are not.

Google does month-to-month safety updates for Android Automotive, full with the same old security bulletin releases identical to a telephone. These updates embrace all of the fixes from the common Android safety bulletins. However since they solely listing further, Automotive particular issues, they’ve, to this point, all been clean. The Polestar 2 has averaged one OTA replace a month since its launch, although sadly, these updates have not included Android safety updates. As of April 2021, the most recent replace for the Polestar 2 was solely a January 2021 safety patch.

Automotive is the one Android kind issue apart from the principle codebase to get safety bulletins, and together with the supply code availability, Google makes it appear head-and-shoulders extra vital and Android-like than Android TV or Put on OS. Automotive is clearly Google’s second favourite taste of Android.

The home screen is split into four quadrants
Enlarge / The house display is break up into 4 quadrants

Ron Amadeo

There are literally a ton of Android analogs which were re-created for Automotive. Whereas the Open Handset Alliance is a bunch of smartphone OEMs devoted to Android, Automotive has the Open Automotive Alliance, which is a Google-led group of producers bringing Android to vehicles. On telephones, Android is free and open-source, however Google would love it when you licensed the proprietary “Google Cellular Providers” app assortment, which brings issues just like the Play Retailer, Google Maps, and Google Play Providers. On Android Automotive, Google has the producers join the proprietary “Google Automotive Providers” with automotive variations of Maps and the Play Retailer.

Android Automotive is skinnable, identical to a smartphone. Automotive producers could make it seem like no matter they need, simply with the Android code base, APIs, and app ecosystem beneath. Basing our preliminary assessment of Android Automotive on the Polestar 2 is just a little awkward since our solely business have a look at the OS is that this model that is been skinned by Polestar—it is lots like attempting to determine new Android options by taking a look at a Samsung Galaxy telephone. It is not essentially clear which options and limitations are the fault (or credit score) of Google or Polestar. We might help with this a bit by additionally firing up the Android Automotive emulator in Android Studio, which is able to give us an unskinned model of the OS, however it’s unclear how completed that’s, because it does not really ship on something. The opposite downsides to the emulator is that it is trapped inside a pc display with restricted entry to the surface world, and it is designed for a a lot smaller show than the Polestar. We’re doing our greatest right here, although.

The hands-down most disappointing factor about Android Automotive for me is that developer mode is totally disabled on manufacturing vehicles. You possibly can’t sideload apps, or tether a laptop computer to the automotive and run ADB, or pull apps off the automotive or take screenshots. That is disappointing first as a result of I cannot have any enjoyable—I wished to benchmark a automotive and sideload a bunch of silly, impractical apps—however it additionally looks as if it will make growth tougher than it must be. There may be simply no solution to check an Automotive app on an precise automotive.

Security is a continuing concern with these automotive computer systems. AAOS will get to see the automotive pace, gear, and parking brake standing, and it could possibly alter the UI accordingly for apps that aren’t “security optimized.” There’s a entire service that manages UI security restrictions primarily based on the present driving state. Some options will be completely disabled whereas shifting, like Bluetooth setup, the Play Retailer, or the automotive handbook, and apps can alter or flip off particular person options whereas shifting, just like the QWERTY keyboard, listing size, textual content field size, dial pads, textual content messages, movies, and extra. In Android 11, there’s additionally a security restriction mode for passengers, which presumably would open up extra options when a second individual is within the automotive.

Like each different infotainment system, automotive producers are answerable for figuring out what’s and is not protected in every driving mode, and these choices are sometimes made with native regulatory our bodies, just like the Nationwide Freeway Transportation Security Authority (NHTSA) within the US. Sooner or later, a automotive with extra superior autonomous options would possibly open up the characteristic set extra whereas rolling down the highway.

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