Google announces Open Automotive Alliance — get ready for Android cars

android cars 01Google, with a cohort of four car companies and a chip maker, has announced a consortium called the Open Automotive Alliance. The announcement comes under Google’s banner, and the mission is “aimed at bringing the Android platform to a device that’s always been mobile: the car.” The first group of participating car companies comprises General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, and Audi (whose partnership with Google was leaked last week). NVIDIA, a chip maker, is on board to provide processors for the Android-powered digital dashboards.

The concept and imminent reality of Android cars is obviously desirable from Google’s viewpoint. For automakers, partnering with an established tech company when creating a car’s dashboard brain works toward solving a couple of serious problems plaguing the car industry. First, the speed-to-market issue, also called the development-cycle issue. Car companies historically operate with five-year development periods when conceptualizing, designing, and building new models. In the technology realm, five years can encompass the entire life cycle of a product category (e.g. Netbooks). New-model cars brought to market in the last several years, with outdated tech features, accelerated the trend of drivers bringing their personal technology into the cockpit.

That last point is the second serious problem. Understandably, automakers want to own and control the car’s dashboard. But when a new buyer powers the car’s entertainment system by plugging in his or her smartphone, the phone becomes the dashboard. Putting Android in the dashboard basically builds the smartphone into the dashboard — at least, in the perspective of one-billion Android users. Automakers are unquestionably allured by the thought of building cars that attract a gigantic population of aligned drivers, and whose tech features stay up-to-date from showroom to scrapyard.

However, the Open Automotive Alliance is not the first consortium of its type. Google’s staunch mobile competitor, Apple, last year established a coalition of OEMs under the “iOS in the Car” initiative. Honda and Hyundai are in both groups, and why not? It has been our view that showrooms could eventually sell Android cars next to Apple cars, providing OS choice as one of the most important option packages.

So the race is on. Google’s press release promises an Android-powered dashboard by the end of this year.

Brad Hill