Google is working on an operating system that would be directly built into car software allowing drivers to enjoy connectivity benefits without having to plug in their handsets.
The US tech giant may be working towards launching the new system together with the next Android upgrade in about a year, sources familiar with the company’s plans told Reuters.
The next-generation Android Auto will allow drivers to access Google’s apps including streaming of music or maps directly on the vehicle’s built-in screen. The current software, launched earlier this year, requires a smartphone to be plugged into the car’s on-board system in order to access Google’s services.
"It provides a much stronger foothold for Google to really be part of the vehicle rather than being an add-on," said Thilo Koslowski, vice president and Automotive Practice leader of industry research firm Gartner, who noted that he was unaware of Google's latest plans in this area.
If successful, Android would become the standard system powering a car's entertainment and navigation features, solidifying Google's position in a new market where it is competing with arch-rival Apple. Google could also potentially access the valuable trove of data collected by a vehicle and wouldn’t risk the system being switched off when the device runs out of battery.
Direct integration into cars ensures that drivers have no other choice but to use Google's services every time they turn on the ignition.
"With embedded it's always on, always there," said one of the sources that wished not to be named, referring to the built-in version of Android Auto. "You don't have to depend on your phone being there and on."
Google's software could potentially connect to other car components, allowing, for example, a built-in navigation system such as Google Maps to detect when fuel is low and provide directions to the nearest gas stations.
By tapping into the car's components, Google could also gain valuable information to feed its data-hungry advertising business model. "You can get access to GPS location, where you stop, where you travel everyday, your speed, your fuel level, where you stop for gas," one of the sources said.
But the source noted that Android would need major improvements in performance and stability for car-makers to adopt it. In particular, Android Auto would need to power-up instantly when the driver turns the car on, instead of having to wait more than 30 seconds, as happens with many smartphones.
Automakers might also be wary of giving Google access to in-car components that could raise safety and liability concerns, and be reluctant to give Google such a prime spot in their vehicles.
"Automakers want to keep their brand appeal and keep their differentiation," said Mark Boyadjis, an analyst with industry research firm IHS Automotive. "Automakers don't want to have a state of the industry where you get in any vehicle and it's just the same experience wherever you go."
Google’s main competitor Apple unveiled its CarPlay software in March this year. The system uses the same model as Google with the drivers having to plug in their devices in order to access the services.
Since the launch of Android Auto earlier this year, Google has managed to sign up dozens of companies including Hyundai, General Motors and Nissan for its Open Automotive Alliance and the Android Auto product.