Volvo's newest brand, Polestar, took the wraps of Polestar 2 yesterday, the company's all-electric Tesla Model 3 fighter. Polestar has done something interesting to think about how a car will work (The car starts via a chair-mounted pressure switch! It has a crazy ownership subscription plan!), And one of the wider features is in the infotainment system: this is the first car with Android Auto built in .
Previously, we have seen a smartphone app from Google called "Android Auto" which, like Apple's CarPlay, runs on the smartphone and uses the car view as an external monitor. This project with Polestar is a full blown operating system rather than a single app, and it is built into the car's hardware rather than running on the smartphone. It really has no name. Volvo just called "Android", and Google has previously referred to it as both "Android Automotive" and "Android Auto embedded."
Since at least 2014, Google has been commissioned to expand its operating system operating system to a car operating system business. Google's automotive plan is really a direct extension of how Android phones work: Google builds a special car version of the Android OS, and automakers build the hardware. Car manufacturers can skin Android to make it look different than their competitors, but they all share Google's appliance system, which includes Play Store, Google Maps, and Google Assistant. Car manufacturers get a much more compatible operating system than they could build themselves, and Google receives revenue from ads and the app store.
We've seen demos of Google's car OS from Fiat-Chrysler, Volvo and Audi, but Polestar 2 is the first production car registered for the Google car operating system. The production of Polestar 2 actually begins next year, which is a big deal after years of fairs starting in 2016.
On stage, Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of Volvo's Polestar brand, demoted a bit of the infotainment system. The home screen (which is completely skinnable and reconfigurable by car manufacturers) takes the form of a 2×2 grid of apps. You can specify any app you want in each box, giving you clear information from Google Maps, phone, car power system, or music. HVAC controls are located at the bottom of the home screen, while a status bar and navigation bar are located at the top of the screen.
Spotify, Google Assistant, and – most importantly – Google Maps were all on stage. Ingenlath admitted that the company has struggled with navigation earlier, saying: "For how many years have we promised to deliver a user-friendly and up-to-date navigation, and how horrible did we fail again and again?" Google Maps at Polestar 2 looked pretty smooth, black voice commands for a pizza place and a query for charging stations. The map shows itself in the meter's cluster display behind the wheel.
With Android, Polestar 2 will be one of the rare cars with an actual app ecosystem. It's not the full phone app ecosystem, but a limited selection of apps built for Android Auto. These apps are required to follow strict security and distracted driving needs as stated by NHTSA and many other public transport safety groups around the world. You can see most of the app selection here, but there are almost entirely apps for music, podcasts, audio books and messages. Highlights include Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Google Music, Audible, Pocketcasts, NPR One, Facebook Messenger, Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat and even Google's other navigation app, Waze.
Of course, Polestar 2's infotainment system can connect to your phone, and despite Android running, Ingenlath assured the public that Polestar 2 will be fine for an iPhone. The car also has its own Internet connection by default, so probably pairing to the phone will only be for things like calls and contacts.
Some car manufacturers like Honda and Hyundai are already using a fork version of Android to build their infotainment systems, but Polestar 2 becomes the first car with this Google-sanctioned version of Android that drives the infotainment system. Unlike the manufacturer's Android forks, Google is focused on getting manufacturers to use an updated version of Android. I expect Polestar 2 to run Android 9 Piece, while Honda's infotainment system is based on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean (launched in 2012). Hyundai uses an even older version of Android: 2.3 Gingerbread.
Google's car Android plan should result in something safer than the average car. Just like the Internet of Things, having a bunch of non-technical businesses, building interconnected devices can cause a security issue. The devices (the infotainment system in this case, the camera or router in the case of IoT) are almost never updated, and having all of these Internet enabled devices running old software is a security nightmare. Having a new car that actually starts with a modern version of Android will be a great help, but Polestar also promised updates "on a regular basis." Google mandates a minimum level of security support for Android phones, but it doesn't matter if it will implement something similar to cars.
Listing image of Polestar