In Google's vision, Android will be with you wherever you go. It’s in your smartphone. When your smartphone’s far away, it’s on your watch. And when it’s illegal to look at your smartphone, it’ll find a way into your eyes anyway — through your car dash.
Forbes took a demo ride with Android Auto, the new platform announced Wednesday at the company’s annual developers conference. Well, it wasn’t really a ride — the car stayed put on the conference hall floor.
But the demo showed what we can expect from Android Auto once it starts to be available in cars rolling off dealer lots at the end of 2014: some smart integration with your phone.
Android Auto will do its best to guess what you want: It’ll pull up directions from recently searched places on your phone when you get into the car. It’ll jump to your favorite Spotify playlists or stations. It’ll suggest you call those you contact most frequently.
But touchscreens and smartscreens in cars can be dangerous, both in practice and legally. The family of the 6-year-old girl killed by an Uber driver in San Francisco is suing both the driver and Uber for encouraging reckless driving by having an app that a driver often touches and and interacts with while driving.
With that in mind, Google played up Android Auto’s ability to be controlled completely by voice commands. But the car demo relied heavily on turning and touching a control knob on the car’s center console, and the demo in the keynote address even included one tap of the touchscreen.
The platform developers knew there’d be a temptation to touch the screen. They tried to mitigate that danger by making the bottom rail of controls similar to the tactile buttons on an old car dash radio. Each screen frame has relatively few options, with dimmed colors and a large font. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how safety considerations play out.
Android Auto will come in cars ranging from Honda and Hyundai to Audi and Bentley starting at the end of 2014.
Follow Ellen Huet on Twitter at @ellenhuet.