For a long time, the car industry has been a bit of a lumbering behemoth. Set in its ways, and slow to react to a changing world. But recently, things have begun to change.
The industry is picking up on trends much quicker, and reacting to them even faster. Where once in-car technology was a joke compared to everything else in our homes, now it can often match the best of what traditional tech companies manage.
Mercedes, for instance, has a breathtaking new dual-screen infotainment system in the new E-Class, and even Peugeot now has a super-futuristic digital dash in the brand-new 3008 SUV.
Apple and Google have realised that people really like to use their phones on the go, and so have created their own systems that can be built into manufacturers’ systems.
Yes, we’re talking about Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
And at the moment, the systems are still relatively basic.
Plug your phone into the car, and your phone powers an interface with a simplified version of some of your most useful apps.
Which is fantastic if you rely on Google Maps, say, for navigation (which is fair enough, since many carmakers do still have abysmal systems – despite some notable exceptions).
Soon though, if Google has its way, the marriage of phones and cars may become even more complete.
At their recent developer event, the company previewed some changes coming soon to Android Auto (headlines: Waze, ‘Okay Google’ hotword detection, and wireless connection to your car) as well as a conceptual system jammed into a Maserati Ghibli.
Quite why they used a Maserati remains unclear, but hey, if you’re going to fit some cool tech into a car, why not make it a Maser?
Strictly speaking, though, it was Qualcomm (the company that makes most of the phone processors used worldwide) that modified the car. The result being what you see in the photos on this page.
Hard to miss is the massive portrait touchscreen, looking very much like Tesla’s super-sized system. In this instance, the screen is a
Next to it is another screen – a 720p digital instrument cluster.
Those screens, though, are not what make this prototype interesting. Rather, it’s the software that behind them.
Running a version of Android N, the system allows Google to take over control of almost all of the car’s infotainment systems.
That means climate control, the stereo, navigation, instrument clusters, door locks, and so on.
And the system could even run apps, including Apple CarPlay.
If any of you have used a recent Android phone, and were impressed by its beautiful, smooth and intuitive interface, then you know this can only be a good thing.
Of course, car makers wouldn’t much fancy handing over control of all their functions to another party if they didn’t have complete control, and thankfully, since this is Android we’re talking about, they do have control.
Like the phone operating system, Android here is open, meaning car makers – should they choose to use the system – could modify it and skin it as much as they like.
So much like Blackberry’s QNX system that’s used as a base by some car makers at the moment, in the future we could see Android acting as the base in many more cars.
And as long as those car makers don’t screw up the interface too much (always a possibility…) it should look fantastic. And it should be much more intuitive than many of the systems in use at the moment.
At present, there’s no word on whether any automakers will be using Android N in their cars – but hopefully they won’t make us wait too long.