Audi announcing Android deal at CES 2014

At CES 2014 next week, Audi is expected to announce a new partnership with Google to use Android software in its infotainment systems.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
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Josh Miller/CNET
Audi currently integrates Google Earth into its navigation system, and is rumored to be working on Android adoption. Josh Miller/CNET

As previously reported on CNET, Audi and Google are expected to announce a partnership at the upcoming CES 2014 in Las Vegas concerning the use of the Android operating system as an infotainment platform in vehicles.

In past years, Audi has used CES to show off its high-tech development, from the first look at the new dashboard and infotainment system for the Audi A3 to last year's display of components designed to enable autonomous vehicles. Although Audi issued a press release about the new Laserlight concept car it will unveil during CES this year, the expected Android announcement will probably not be accompanied by a live demonstration.

Audi's current partnership with Google integrates Google Earth satellite imagery and Street View into Audi navigation systems. And while Audi's current infotainment software is mature and well-developed, the company lacks much in the way of branded app integration.

Adopting an Android OS in the dashboard would make app integration easier.

This version of Android would likely bear little resemblance to that found on phones and tablets, as Audi would need to keep tight control over which apps could be installed to avoid liability issues. Likewise, Audi would want to make sure any apps installed in the car meet quality requirements.

Audi would probably not swap its interface controller for a touch screen with the adoption of Android. Josh Miller/CNET

It is also quite possible that the actual interface would not change from what's in current Audi vehicles. Audi has spent a lot of effort developing its Multimedia Interface controller and associated touch pad. Audi's cabin design would not be conducive to a touch-screen interface.

None of this development signals better or worse integration with the type of phone a driver brings into the vehicle. Audi will want to remain agnostic toward a driver's preferred phone.

Much of Audi's infotainment development occurs at the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory near San Francisco, which enables close cooperation with Google. Current Audi models include a dedicated mobile data connection, used for Google Earth imagery and other connected information sources. Audi announced during last year's Los Angeles Auto Show that it would build 4G/LTE connectivity into the new A3 model.

Any Audi vehicle using the new Android system will probably not being hitting the road for more than a year. The A3 is Audi's biggest new launch in the US, and it uses software already developed and proven. The A4 is due for an update, but development on that model must be well under way by now. The larger models, the A6, A7, and A8, would likely better coincide with a major infotainment software update in 2015.