Like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto will allow drivers to control, interact with and use their smartphones via their car's built-in entertainment system.
To start, drivers connect their Android smartphone to a car's entertainment system via a USB cable. This enables a specially developed version of the Android interface to be cast to the car's main screen and was demonstrated on stage in a cut-out Kia Soul interior.
The interface's home screen (above) is filled with destination suggestions, music options, reminders and notifications that are relevant to the driver. A quick navigation strip featuring shortcuts for navigation, music and the phone appears on most screens.
At launch the three main functions of Android Auto will be navigation, communication and music. Users can interact with the system via the steering wheel controls, voice commands and the car's touchscreen. Presumably the system will also work with dial-driven systems, such as Audi's MMI.
Via Google Maps (above) drivers are able to access local search, personalised suggestions, live traffic information and turn-by-turn navigation.
At today's keynote navigation was demonstrated by this interaction:
Driver: How late is the De Young Museum open today?
Android Auto: De Young Museum is open from 9.30am to 5.15pm on Wednesday.
Driver: Navigate there.
Through Android Auto's voice-driven messaging service (above), Google hopes to coax drivers away from the dangerous and illegal art of texting and driving.
As in Apple CarPlay, text messages aren't displayed or replied to on-screen but are handled primarily via voice.
Whenever an SMS arrives a notification pops up in a tile that doesn't obscure the main function of Android Auto's current screen. When this alert is tapped by the driver, the system will read the message aloud. Replies are done verbally and transcribed by Google before being to sent.
During the keynote it was demonstrated thusly:
Android Auto: Andy, are we there yet?
Driver (after pressing the voice command button on the steering wheel): Reply.
Android Auto: What's the message?
Driver: I have no wheels.
Android Auto: Here's your message to Heroti Lacheimer: 'I have no wheels.' Do you want to send it?
Google also demonstrated Android Auto's music playback chops. Interestingly only the company's streaming Google Play Music was shown (above), with the driver scrolling through songs from his history and playlists.
According to Google, Android Auto will allow drivers to skip between tracks and stations via the car's physical controls, as well as via voice.
No mention was made about music stored on one's smartphone, hinting that that type of functionality will be left to third-party developers to handle. Google did announce, though, that the Joyride, MLB At Bat, Pandora, Umano, Spotify, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, iHeart Radio, Songza and Stitcher apps will be Android Auto compatible when the system launches.
Android Auto functionality will become accessible when the version of Android, currently dubbed Android L, becomes available later this year.
Entertainment systems with Android Auto compatibility will begin rolling into US showrooms by the end of 2014, with Hyundai's new Sonata sedan one of the first cars to offer an Android Auto capable audio system.
So far these automakers have committed to bringing Android Auto into their cars: Abarth, Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Ram, Renault, Seat, Skoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Volvo.
The ranks of suppliers and third-party component makers willing to work with Android Auto has also significantly swelled, with Alpine, Clarion, Cloudcar, Delphi, Freescale, Fujitsu Ten, Harman, JVC Kenwood, Nvidia, Panasonic, Parrot, Pioneer, Renesas and Symphony Technica all jumping onto the train.
Some of these manufacturers are also in bed with Apple for CarPlay, so there's hope that both CarPlay and Android Auto can be equipped on the same entertainment unit.