What do you look for in a car? Automatic or manual transmission? Front or rear wheel drive? How about iOS or Android?
Today Google announced the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance, a collective of tech and automotive companies that are committed to bringing Android to cars starting this year. Joining Google at launch is chipmaker Nvidia, along with car manufacturers Hyundai, GM, Honda, and Audi. The partnership aims to create a common, Android-based platform with an open development model that will allow developers and automakers to incorporate the mobile OS in a way that is safe, intuitive, and seamless.
The new Google partnership comes seven months after Apple announced its own plan to connect your vehicle, iOS in the Car, at last year’s World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC). Compared to Google’s newly formed partnership, iOS in the Car is a much simpler venture, offering a way to integrate apps and services like Siri, iMessage, Music, and Maps with your vehicle’s built-in display. While the full service isn’t rumored to launch until iOS 7.1 drops, car manufacturers like Honda have already begun to include deeper iOS integration in their newest models, and almost every major auto company has expressed interest in the functionality—including Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, Ferrari, Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Jaguar, and BMW, several of which have also joined Google’s Open Automotive Alliance. For the automakers who are taking both sides, your car's OS may end up as a built-to-order option, allowing you to choose between Google or Apple camps the way you choose the car's color or trim package.
In-dash computing becomes a necessary consideration in a world where at least one in three smartphone owners use their device while driving. It's not just for calls or texts, either—one in four are accessing the Internet as well, trying to stay abreast of emails and social media while on the road. According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving. Distracted driving resulted in 3,331 traffic deaths in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. It's a well-documented problem that doesn't seem to go away, but perhaps making our smartphones a part of our cars will help.
Will there be a winner and a loser in the race to connect our cars? Google’s new partnership doesn’t have any demonstrable tech yet, although it expects to hit the market by year’s end. It’s also an ambitious, ground-up approach that could possibly yield something far more interesting and intuitive since it would be open to developers, and could conceivably integrate with Google's self-driving car platform.