Back in January, at the Consumer Electronics Show, Google announced its plans for world dashboard domination. We didn't get much in the way of details, but were told that the company's unnamed infotainment system for center stacks would come to Audi, General Motors, Honda, and Hyundai vehicles before the end of the year.
Yesterday, at its annual I/O conference, Google unveiled many more details about the system, including its official name: Android Auto.
The most important thing to know is that Android Auto requires an Android smartphone to work. That's great news for Android owners and for those of us who have long insisted that automakers should get out of the infotainment business. It lets us make use of the smartphones we already know and (mostly) love, letting software innovators like Google and Apple shape our in-car experience.
Of course, it's bad news for iPhone owners -- but then again, they have CarPlay to look forward to.
According to Cnet, Android Auto users will plug a phone into the dashboard, then pair the device with Android Auto via Bluetooth. (Which seems a little clunky to us -- shouldn't it just be one or the other?)
Once that's done, the car's center stack essentially becomes a second screen for the phone. If you have an Android device, or even if you use Google Chrome as your web browser, you'll find some familiar offerings among Android Auto's feature set:
Navigation: Google Maps is generally considered the gold standard when it comes to mapping software, and it's no surprise that navigation is front and center in Android Auto. It's designed to make use of Google's voice assistant (which, in our experience, often outperforms Siri).
Concierge: You've just gotten out of a movie, and you want to know how late the local pho joint serves dinner. Using the same voice commands you'd use to get directions, you can ask for operating hours and other key info.
Music: No surprises here: as with many infotainment systems, you'll be able to browse and play through your entire music library by voice command.
Texting: Android Auto will be able to notify you when you receive text messages, read those messages aloud, and take dictation as you rattle off replies.
Integration with other Google services: If you use Google's full suite of offerings, like Google Calendar, Hangouts, and Gmail, it appears that Android Auto will integrate with those, too -- for example, reminding you of calendar appointments.
Oddly, there's no mention of Android Auto allowing you to make and receive hands-free calls on the road -- but then, since Android Auto works through a phone, and since the phone has traditionally been all about phone calls, maybe that's a given?
We haven't been told precisely when Android Auto will be available to new-car shoppers, but the list of automakers offering it is very, very long. It includes Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, Honda, Hyundai/Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Volvo. (Suspiciously absent: Toyota, which is definitely onboard with Apple's CarPlay.)
There's no word yet on pricing for Android Auto, either, though it's likely to vary widely from automaker to automaker, depending on how the upgrade is packaged. If you'd like to keep tabs on the rollout, you can sign up for updates on Google's Android Auto homepage.