Google readies souped-up Android for cars

Google is preparing the foundations for a version of its Android operating system that can be built directly into connected cars.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET
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Apple CarPlay
While Apple has made headway with CarPlay, Google is unlikely to be left behind. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Google isn't planning to be left behind in the rush to hook up vehicles to the Internet.

Following in the steps of Apple and Microsoft, Google is laying the groundwork for a custom operating system suitable for infotainment purposes, according to Reuters.

The publication's sources say the Mountain View, Calif.,-based firm's new technology will be a major step-up from Android Auto software. Android Auto, based on the standard mobile Android OS, requires a phone to be plugged into a compatible car which is equipped with an infotainment screen. Android Auto can be used to access maps, music, weather and other apps, but is hardly the streamlined, seamless service Google has the potential to create.

There are no details currently provided for a timeline or development process of the new Android-based infotainment software, however, we may know more when the next version of Google's operating system, dubbed Android M, is released.

If Google is successful, not only could the tech giant potentially gain access to a treasure trove of data generated by drivers, but the firm will be able to compete against rivals including Microsoft and Apple. While Microsoft has so far only revealed a concept infotainment system dubbed 'Windows in the Car,' Apple has pulled ahead in the race through the release of Apple CarPlay.

Apple CarPlay allows drivers to use iOS applications through voice activation. The system can be used to make hands-free calls, access maps, music, weather and to receive message notifications.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Volvo have committed to manufacturing vehicles compatible with CarPlay, and Audi also announced this year that new vehicles will come with Apple's CarPlay enabled.

Wearables and the Internet of Things, the idea of bringing appliances and gadgets together through the Internet, are two areas technology firms are racing to dominate. The Internet of Things, which includes connected cars, has a variety of potential uses -- from smart fridges which monitor temperature and send alerts to home lighting and security which can be controlled through your smartphone.

Connected car technology is not limited only to the use of mobile apps, but can also include integrated mapping systems, fuel efficiency gauges, maintenance notifications, extended camera use as well as sensors which alert the driver when they are too close to obstacles.

While Apple has made headway with CarPlay, Google is unlikely to be left behind. The tech giant has signed on a number of companies -- including Hyundai and General Motors -- through the Open Automotive Alliance and current Android Auto product, and an integrated Android OS for vehicles is a logical step-up for the firm.

This story originally posted as "Google readies Android for the connected car" on ZDNet.

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