The next generation of vehicular infotainment technology is here. Hyundai become the first OEM to launch Android Auto, an exciting new computing system that puts the power of Google right in your vehicle’s dashboard.
This technology is launching in the company’s popular Sonata midsize sedan for the 2016 model year. But in a move that’s somewhat unusual, the South Korean automaker is also making the service available to customers that have already purchased 2015 models of the car. Provided they’re equipped with navigation, a software update is all it takes to enable this tremendously powerful new feature.
Android Auto is also a competitive advantage for the automaker as in the near future everyone’s going to have it.
The power of Google, simplicity of your phone
This will not be obsolete -From a high level the idea of Android Auto is to take the user interface of your Smartphone and project it onto the display screen inside your car. This provides wireless connectivity, tons of computing power and an experience that you’re already familiar with. Since your handset is typically replaced with something new every two years or so the hardware is always up to date. This is especially true when compared to built-in infotainment systems, which are designed to last a decade or more.
Distracted driving is a major issue these days and Android Auto was designed with motorists in mind. The user interface is minimalistic and intuitive; people who use Smartphone will be able to figure this out in about two minutes. This is super easy to use and most importantly, safe.
The on-screen buttons are fat-finger friendly, the layout is clean and overall the number of options has been kept to a minimum so you don’t have to hunt and peck to get the information you want. Everything is elegantly displayed and easy to figure out.
But don’t let this approachability fool you, Android Auto is incredibly powerful, after all its Google, which is essentially the sum of all recorded human knowledge. To name but a handful of the things this system is capable of, it can get you directions to a restaurant you’ve heard about, remind you about appointments on your calendar or give you traffic updates; it’s even able warn you about the weather, share sports scores and give information about nearby events. It will scare you a little bit, but all for your safety.
Of course there are multiple ways to interact with Android Auto. You can use the touch screen, dedicated hardware buttons or even your voice. And that last option is particularly impressive.
Android Auto’s natural language recognition is damn impressive. Just speak and it listens. Of course it can also read text messages back to you and it even recognizes emotions, which is handy when someone sends you a smiley face or a middle finger icon.
Performance: Silky smooth
Many in-vehicle infotainment systems are so bad it’s not even funny, but Android Auto brings a level of polish and responsiveness rarely seen in the automotive space. When you pinch-to-zoom on the map it snappily responds, when you go to the home screen there’s no delay, swiping through playlists is a breeze. Everything is fast and fluid, just like on your Smartphone.
With Android Auto your phone communicates with the display in your vehicle via a cable. You simply plug the handset into the USB port and the system takes over. The first time you do this it automatically installs the required application on your device. Additionally, when your phone is plugged in its screen is deactivated, which further curbs distracted driving.
Third parties, First Class
Beyond things like integrated search and navigation Android Auto also supports third-party applications, just like your phone. But right now this is pretty much limited to things like music and messaging apps, after all you shouldn’t be able to browse Facebook or read the paper while driving.
Apps like iHeart Radio, Stitcher, NPR and Skype are offered, so there is a fair bit of choice.
The road ahead
For now, Android Auto is only offered in Hyundai’s Sonata, but the Genesis, Azera and Elantra GT are next in line to get this system. They use basically the same head unit, which should make implementing it a snap. It’s scheduled to launch in these models sometime next year.