What Is Android Automotive?

Android Automotive is NOT Android Auto. It's an operating system running infotainment systems, and it's already in some new vehicles

Android powers Android phones and tablets, while Android Auto is an app that mirrors an Android phone on a vehicle’s dashboard display. And now there's Android Automotive. Unlike Android Auto, Android Automotive is a full-fledged version of Android designed to replace infotainment systems like Ford’s Sync and GM’s MyLink.

What Is Android Automotive?

Android Automotive is a version of the Android operating system that’s optimized to power in-vehicle infotainment systems instead of phones or tablets. It’s open source, just like the version of Android that runs on phones, so vehicle manufacturers are free to customize it to their own standards. Vehicle manufacturers can also opt to license the closed-source Google Automotive Services (GAS) software bundle that includes Google Maps, Google Assistant, Google Play, and other Google apps.

When you hear that a vehicle has Android Automotive, that typically means that its infotainment system is powered by the Android Automotive operating system with GAS. In that case, the navigation is provided by Google Maps, Google Assistant handles voice controls, and additional third-party apps like Spotify and AccuWeather are available via Google Play.

In addition to handling hands-free phone calls and texts, Google Assistant also has some additional capabilities in Android Automotive systems. Since Android Automotive operates as the vehicle’s infotainment system, it typically controls various vehicle systems, like climate control and rear seat entertainment.

Since Android Automotive is open source, vehicle manufacturers can customize it to their specifications and opt out of licensing the closed-source GAS bundle. For example, Stellantis opted to tweak Android Automotive to use TomTom maps and the Alexa voice assistant in their vehicles. It’s very similar to how Amazon uses Android to power their Fire tablets but replaces the Google Play Store and other Google services with Amazon’s own app store and services.

What’s the Difference Between Android Automotive and Android Auto?

Android Automotive and Android Auto have similar names but are very different. Android Automotive is an operating system based on Android, while Android Auto is a mirroring app that lets you view and interact with your phone through your vehicle’s infotainment system.

When a vehicle manufacturer opts to use the Android Automotive operating system to power their infotainment system, it runs a version of Android on the hardware in your vehicle. Android Automotive runs versions of Android apps, like Google Maps, and uses Google Assistant for voice interactions. You can connect an Android phone or iPhone for hands-free calling or texting, but the hardware in your vehicle handles everything else.

With Android Auto, your phone runs the apps, which are then displayed on the infotainment screen in your vehicle via a USB or wireless connection. When disconnected from an Android Auto vehicle, the vehicle defaults to the built-in infotainment system. When a phone is disconnected from a car that uses Android Automotive, the system loses phone call and text capabilities.

How Do You Get Android Automotive?

The only way to get Android Automotive is to buy a vehicle that uses Android Automotive for its infotainment system. Availability is limited, but manufacturers like Ford, GM, and Volvo have models that use Android Automotive with the full GAS software package, including Google Maps and Google Play. Other manufacturers, like Stellantis, Rivian, and BMW, have models that use modified versions of Android Automotive with other navigation, voice assistant, and app store services.

  • Which cars have Android Automotive?

    Android Automotive is available in a variety of vehicles from manufacturers including Volvo (Polestar), GMC (Hummer, Sierra, Yukon), and Chevrolet (Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado, etc.). You can see an updated list at Google's official site.

  • What is the Android Auto DriveLink?

    DriveLink is a third-party wireless adapter. It plugs into your car's USB port and then communicates with your phone wirelessly to connect your device to Android Auto.

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