Android Auto Is Live: What It Is and How to Get It

Chances are you know all about CarPlay, the standard from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) that integrates its iPhone with vehicle entertainment systems. Apple has been talking up CarPlay for well over a year now and the first vehicles fully equipped to support the standard are due in dealer showroom this year.

Android auto, android auto intro

However, despite Apple’s efforts to build an in-car head start, CarPlay will immediately face a competing service from rival Google (NASDAQ:GOOG,NASDAQ:GOOGL) in the form of Android Auto.

Google launched Android Auto on March 19, third-party car decks are already rolling out Android Auto support, and Google has 28 car manufacturers currently signed up. Most of those are the exact same partners Apple has, and many of them will be releasing vehicles that support both platforms simultaneously — Germany’s Volkswagen AG (OTCMKTS:VLKAY) is just one of the big automakers releasing cars in 2015 that offer support for both standards.

We know all about CarPlay, but what about Android Auto? Google hasn’t been promoting its in-car system nearly as heavily as Apple has.

Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s CarPlay competitor.

Android Auto: It’s Not the Self-Driving Car

Android auto, android auto has car maker support

The first thing to know about Android Auto is that it’s separate from Google’s self-driving car project.

Cars that drive themselves are still at least a few years away from being mainstream. While Google is a frontrunner to get there first, buying a car with Android Auto support simply offers integration between your car’s infotainment system and your Android smartphone, not an auto pilot.

You can bet that when Google finally does release its driverless car, Android Auto will be high on its feature list. CarPlay support, probably not so much.

Android Auto: Hands Free

Android auto supports voice contol like CarPlay

Like CarPlay, Android Auto is designed to integrate all the best features of your smartphone with your car, doing so in a way that’s hands-free.

This means drivers can take full advantage of their smartphone’s capabilities without the distraction of taking their eyes off the road.

That’s important because distracted driving is dangerous, and using that smartphone can land you a hefty fine. Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal in 14 states, while texting and driving is an offense in 45 states.

Android Auto: All Your Favorite Android Features

Android Auto supports Google Play Music

When driving a vehicle that supports Android Auto (and bringing your Android smartphone along for the ride), you can expect to have hands-free access to all your favorite Android features. You can:

  • Use Google Maps on the infotainment display, with turn-by-turn guided navigation, lane guidance and live traffic updates
  • Send and receive voice calls
  • Send and receive text messages
  • Stream Google Play Music over the car stereo, with access to Google Play Music’s 30 million songs and support for you custom playlists
  • Use Google Voice personal assistant including reminders, and queries

Other apps will be supported, but not those including video playback (for obvious reasons).

Android Auto: How and When?

Android auto, competitor to CarPlay
Source: Pioneer

To get the full Android Auto experience, you’ll need to buy a new car that’s designed to support the standard, including integrated steering wheel controls.

A number of auto manufacturers ranging from VW to Honda (NYSE:HMC) have said they will be releasing cars in 2015 with full Android Auto support on board.

However, that March 19 launch of Android Auto is important because it means you can get the Android Auto experience without having to wait for those new cars to arrive. You will, however, need a smartphone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) to be eligible.

You’ll also have to invest in a new in-dash infotainment system that supports Android Auto — models are already in store from Pioneer. With this combo, you get most of the features, including voice-control, Google Maps navigation and Google Play music. No steering wheel controls, obviously, but this option gets you most of the Android Auto experience now and at a fraction of the cost of new car.

Get ready for an interesting summer. The battle between Apple and Google for smartphone dominance is now entering a new phase as both CarPlay and Android Auto shift from “coming soon” to actually showing up in cars.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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