Google's plan for tomorrow's dashboards (smartphone not included)

May 20, 2016

This week, Google held its annual I/O conference for developers. At least one of the company's announcements could have automakers shaking in their boots or jumping for joy, depending on their point of view.

The announcement came by way of a beautifully tricked-out dashboard on a Maserati Ghibli. As you can see in the video above, the concept presentation features a massive touchscreen on the car's center stack and a digital display behind the steering wheel.

At first glance, this might seem like just a bigger, bolder iteration of Android Auto. However, there are many important differences.

Most importantly, this isn't Android Auto. Android Auto is essentially a modified mirror-image of your Android phone screen, with apps and features that have been streamlined to make them safe for use in traffic. Google's demo on the Ghibli, however, is straight-up Android N--the same Android N that you'll soon find on your smartphone, tablet, or other Android device. It's a standalone system, independent of your phone. 

In other words, Google wants to put a full version of its Android operating system on your dashboard. That means that it will be able to do much more than just play music, show navigation, and take calls. It will interface with the car itself, allowing you to control the air conditioning or adjust the AM/FM radio right from the touchscreen, instead of going through the manufacturer's system.

Google's Android N-based dashboard system is still in development, but it could begin appearing on real-world cars in 2017 or soon after. 

Our take

There are tremendous upsides to a system like this. Aside from the fact that users won't need to go through the ungainly process of pairing their phones to have access to content, an Android dashboard system would create a degree of consistency for consumers. There'd be no need to spend time trying to figure out how the A/C buttons work in your rental car, because they'd work the same as on your daily driver. That, in turn, could reduce the learning curve for new owners--something that could improve satisfaction scores.

The downside, of course, is that an Android dashboard system will almost certainly be connected to the internet. Once things are connected to the internet, they're networked, meaning that they're much more attractive to hackers. That means that Google and automakers will need to make security a tip-top priority.

On the whole, though, we think the benefits of a dashboard system like this far outweigh the potential negatives. And let's be honest, this is where things are headed anyway: toward computerization, toward consistency, and frankly, toward user-friendly interfaces like those from Android and Apple's iOS.

In fact, the only company that stands to be terrified of this announcement is Toyota, which to the best of our knowledge is still in denial about the popularity of Android and iOS. 

For more on this, check out our colleagues at Motor Authority.

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