GM Takes Cue From Amazon, Builds Its Own Infotainment System On Android

November 6, 2014

Here's what we know:

1. Consumers generally hate infotainment systems designed by automakers. (Sometimes, they hate them so much, they file lawsuits.)

2. All that hatred has had an impact on quality and reliability ratings.

3. Both Apple and Google hope to improve the infotainment experience with systems of their own -- systems that mirror the interfaces and features found on the smartphones and tablets we use every day.

You'd expect automakers to breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing about #3. "Hallelujah!", they surely shouted, "Tech companies have come to the rescue, allowing us to focus all our attention on what we do best: building cars!"

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And yet, that hasn't happened. Automakers continue to "improve" their own deeply flawed, impossibly outdated software. And now comes news that General Motors is building its own infotainment system on Android rather than using the already-built, already-tested Android Auto.

Before you throw up your hands, though, keep reading. There's a method to GM's madness.

WHAT IT DOES

Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto put smartphones at the center of the infotainment experience. They serve as mirroring devices, allowing consumers to access apps and media via familiar user interfaces.

The problem is, neither Android Auto nor Car Play are full, in-dash operating systems. If you don't have a smartphone, they don't do much good. And they can't control everything that conventional in-dash systems do, like air-conditioning and heating -- at least not yet.

And so, just as Amazon built a completely customized Android operating system for its Kindle Fire devices, GM has decided to tweak Android for its dashboards. The as-yet-unnamed system promises to be instantly bootable, and it will come with its own app environment (again, like Amazon). It will not only allow owners to access apps and media on the center screen, but it will also control the a/c system, allow views through rearview cameras, and everything else that today's dodgy infotainment systems do.

Even more interestingly, GM has partnered with Harman to carry out the task of building the system. Since Harman also supplies infotainment systems for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota, variations of the one it creates for GM could appear on those lineups, too. 

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OUR TAKE

We get where GM is going with this. It wants an infotainment system that's baked into the dash -- one that can handle a wide range of functions and works even for people without smartphones. Building that system on Android, which many people know (and even iOS users can pick up pretty quickly), seems like a very smart move.

Then again, Google isn't the kind of company to let promising software languish. (It's currently tinkering with one of its most beloved offerings, Gmail, with a new, odd app called Inbox.) Nor is Apple. We'd be surprised if one or both didn't release infotainment systems with greater functionality in the near future.

Will GM's system gain traction? Or will Android Auto and CarPlay force it off the road, much as Android and iOS did to the laughable Fire phone? We'll keep you posted.

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