Google Brings in The Muscle as Android Takes on the Automotive Market


Internet of Things (IoT) pulls a slew of devices into the consumer electronics space. IoT’s benefits to the consumer are mobility and smarter devices, Android (Google) and iOS (Apple) are getting a new “thing” into the game – vehicles. Google is targetting vehicles through a new consortium – Open Auto Alliance (OAA). Comprising Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA, the consortium’s goal is to promote Linux on in-vehicle infortainment systems.

OAA plans to optimize IVI for driving by reducing distractions to the user while driving behind the steering wheel. While the car may in future become a full out connected Android device, the use of Android on these platform is currently limited to tethering IVI systems to phones and tablets via USB or Bluetooth. This allows the use of car dash displays, audio systems and inputs to control phone apps. Priority has been placed on creating better integration with existing devices.
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Promotion of Linux for use on automobile infotainment is touted by other industry alliances which precede the OAA. GENIVI Alliance and Automotive Grade Linux already boast the support of the Linux Foundation. What more, several automobile companies are members of more than one of these consortiums. GM, Honda, Hyundai are all part of GENIVI alliance.

GENIVI’s efforts home in on the standardization of Linux-based IVI systems (In-Vehicle Infotainment). A detailed specification provided for IVI compliance by GENIVI requires the use of components – such as PulseAudio, GStreamer, FUSE, systemd – which have alternatives on the Android system.

Renault’s R-Link, Kia’s Uvo, Volvo’s Sensus are all Android IVI systems but these companies are visibly unrepresented on the OAA. Audi’s own Multi Media Interface (MMI) is a QNX-based system. At the CES 2014, Audi showcased WiFi pairing of an Android tablet with IVI offering digital instrument cluster display. This however doesn’t guarantee migration to Android IVI. It is also notable that Car Connectivity Consortium’s (CCC) standard Mirrorlink, already existing for pairing between mobile devices and IVI systems.
These observations raise the issue: why did Google start their own consortium despite other industry alliances (CCC, GENIVI, Automotive Grade Linux) existing to further the Linux system on IVI? One reason may be to reduce the number of incompatible Android forks in the market. But there are more pertinent issues to be addressed, as GENIVI’s Jeremiah Foster notes – how does Android fit into the automotive software ecosystem? What does the platform comprise? Is it Linux only?

Parallels have been drawn between the OAA and the older OHA (Open Handset Alliance) whose existence allows Google to strictly control the Android platform in the name of compatibility. Members in the OHA are barred from building devices that run competing Android forks, this ensures the Android platform is built around Google services – Hangouts, Play Store, Google+ etc. The OAA may expand the market further locking in on automobiles to drive more business for Google services.

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