A few car manufacturers use bits and pieces of Android in their infotainment systems, but it’s never been the “Google” version of Android. That’s about to change with the rollout of the Android Automotive OS, which Google has demoed repeatedly during its long development. The Polestar 2, an electric vehicle from Volvo’s new experimental group brand that’s due out this year, will be the first vehicle to run Android Automotive. Google is encouraging developers to dig in and start making apps for the car.
You may be thinking that Android is already inside many cars, but that’s Android Auto. The new Android Automotive system is different and potentially much more powerful. Android Auto refers to the system inside phones that can project an interface to your car’s display. Most newer vehicles have this system, which is similar to Apple’s CarPlay. Android Automotive, by contrast, is running on the car, giving it access to many more vehicle functions.
In the Polestar 2, Android Automotive runs on the 11-inch touchscreen with access to apps, media, and select car functionality. Drivers will be able to see the battery charge level (with Google Maps integration), download apps, and control the door locks. Google seems particularly proud of the option to have the car unlock automatically when you approach with a paired Android phone in your pocket.
Google is making Android Automotive available to developers to develop apps. It showed off a pre-release version of Spotify formatted to take advantage of the larger screen and advanced features of the Polestar 2. To start, Google wants developers to focus on media apps that make sense in the car. Later, it expects to open up navigation apps. Vital systems like the drivetrain are sandboxed from the Android software, so developers won’t be able to break anything important.
Android Auto has the advantage of always being up-to-date, and it has access to all the data on your phone because it is your phone. The drawback is that Android Auto requires you to plug in your phone and it’s often sluggish. Android Automotive is reportedly much faster, and it’s undoubtedly easier to use than the atrocious infotainment systems developed by car makers. Although, don’t expect a lot of OTA updates on your car.
The 2020 Polestar 2 will be the first vehicle with Android Automotive when it debuts early next year. The first version released will cost $63,000 with a 78 kWh battery, 408 horsepower equivalent, and a range of 275 miles per charge. A cheaper version of the car will launch later with a starting price of $55,000. Buyers are eligible for the $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit.