Will in-car software make headway this year?

Apr 05, 2016, 2:30 PM EDT
Android Auto. (Source: Maurizio Pesce/flickr)
Android Auto. (Source: Maurizio Pesce/flickr)

Google’s and Apple’s operating systems are now competing in the realm of the car as both companies’ auto systems gain ground around the world. Most recently, Google’s Android Auto announced it is expanding into 18 new countries. But there are still a hefty number of obstacles that the two companies face in terms of becoming top dog in the auto infotainment world, chief among them being compatibility with actual cars. 

2014 was the year both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto really got moving. Apple announced that several car companies including Hyundai, Ford, BMW, GM and others were on board with its in-car entertainment system. And around the same time, Google opened a new set of APIs for its in-car software platform aimed at getting developers on board ahead of Android Auto’s launch for consumers. Since then, the two systems have expanded in markets that don’t necessarily have vehicles ready for them yet. (Although, many auto makers have promised such compatibility.)

Now, Android Auto is expanding from 11 countries to 29 ( including Brazil, India, and Russia) in its biggest international rollout to date. Whether or not car manufacturers will ready vehicles for Android Auto is another question. The system that allows users to control smartphone functions including navigation, messaging, and music through a vehicle’s interface is scheduled to become available on dozens of vehicles this year, but it remains to be seen if that compatibility will flesh out. Since the launch of both CarPlay and Android Auto, the auto manufacturing world has not been as quick to adjust to the availability of these systems. (It goes without saying that the auto industry moves slower than the smartphone one.)

Both Apple and Google have faced other questions about the security of these in-car software systems, mostly revolving around how the data that flows between smartphone and car is protected. Consumers have asked whether or not the data that that Android Auto and CarPlay collect from a user’s car is retained by Google and Apple — a concern that will likely only grow as more vehicles become compatible with either of these services. 

Big name car manufacturers have said that 2016 will be the year that new iterations of popular cars will come with either Android Auto or CarPlay compatibility. Meaning we could soon see which in-car system is initially more popular, and which markets are the biggest adopters. As with most things, success might come down to price. This newly forged rivalry between Google and Apple will be different from their Android/iOS one in that both are relying on the manufacturing of global auto brands to carry their systems to users.