Richard Windsor
16 May 2017 · 2 min read

Google Auto - Tinkering with Android for cars is a dangerous game

Ahead of its developer conference, Google i/o, Google has demonstrated another version of Android that will be able of running many more aspects of the car beyond infotainment.

While Android Auto is limited in terms of what it can do and the data that it can access, this version of Android for the car is much more deeply embedded. As a result, we think it will have access to everything as the infotainment unit is the nerve centre of the vehicle where the 4 data networks in the car (CAN bus) meet.

This means that Google services such as Maps, Search and Assistant will be fully embedded in the car enabling these services to be far more contextual and relevant. It also raises the possibility that Google will be able to suck all of the data out of the car, robbing the OEMs of one the most important pieces of exclusivity that they have. Audi and Volvo have signed up to use this software which will be demonstrated on the Q8 and the V90 SUVs at Google i/o this week.

The two most important issues are:

  • First, Code control: Who is in control of this code is crucial to the outlook for the OEMs. From the presentation, we get the impression that the manufacturers are nominally in control of the Android code going into their cars but we seriously doubt that they have done the implementation themselves. This was most likely done by their tier 1 suppliers or even Google itself. While this means that the OEMs will have control over software updates and feature releases, there are almost certainly going to be hooks in the code that Google can still use.
  • Second, Google agreements: If the OEMs have a similar relationship with Google that the handset makers do, it is important to understand what the OEMs have agreed to. Google controls Android through its agreements with the handset makers and given that the OEMs are getting Google services deeply embedded in their systems, something similar is likely to be demanded by Google. Parts of those agreements are likely to include aspects of user interface design as well as the sharing of data.

We view this software as a replacement for the OEM designed software that resides in the head unit of the vehicle. Android Auto and Car Play run on top of the OEM software but have limited access to the rest of the system. This is likely to be the same such that CarPlay will still run as before but Android Auto will obviously be obsolete.

Google has said that the new software will not be draining the vehicle of data but we suspect that Google is referring to how the software behaves as it leaves the factory. Once it is in the hands of the user and he has agreed to a pop message requesting access to data to improve Google services, the reality could be very different. Sharing this data will make Google services on other devices better for the user but critically, this is the data that the OEM needs to hang onto in order to differentiate itself in all things digital in the car.

This is the risk of deploying software that has not been written in-house as the reality is that the OEMs will have no real idea about what they are deploying on what is becoming the most strategically important part of the vehicle. Tesla and BMW are the only ones that seem to understand the importance of this which is why they are the only OEMs we know of that write their own code.

Google has everything to gain and little to lose by helping OEMs use Android instead of their in-house software which is exactly why OEMs need to look in minute detail at this gift before letting it into their holy of holies.”


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