Google has announced deals with Audi and Volvo to add its Android in-car infotainment system to their next generation of vehicles. In a short statement, Google said that the official licensing agreements mean that Audi and Volvo car owners will eventually be able to use the automotive version of Android to control their air conditioning, sunroof and windows, to find nearby restaurants with Google Maps, listen to Spotify and other entertainment content, and ask Google Assistant for help. The company added that a preview of the Audi and Volvo systems will be on display at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco beginning on 17 May.
In a separate statement, Volvo said that it plans to launch its version of the Android OS on new models within two years, adding that the large catalogue of popular Android apps developed by Google, Volvo or third-party app developers will offer connected and predictive services in and around the car. Audi said the Android OS will be included in the new Audi Q8 Sport concept technology platform, with the new functions running on the large MMI touch display on the dashboard. The information will also be visible in the Audi virtual cockpit in the driver’s direct field of view, marking the first time the new services have been fully integrated into Audi’s brand-specific infotainment system.
With these agreements, Google is moving to provide a fully integrated Android mobile operating system for motor vehicles. That is a significant step forward, in that existing built-in Android solutions (provided by Honda and Hyundai in some of their car models) have been implemented without the full participation of Google and therefore use old versions of the operating system. Google’s current product, called Android Auto, is not integrated with cars’ on-board computers and needs for there to be a smartphone in the vehicle.
While the full details and functionality of Google’s new Android solutions for Volvo and Audi will become clear after they are demonstrated at the San Francisco conference this week, it is likely that it will be superior to the existing solutions, and that it will give seamless access to selected infotainment content from providers with which Google has partnerships.
In this respect, we see both opportunities and challenges for mobile operators. Of course, while the connectivity for the on-board infotainment system will not come through a smartphone, we imagine that in most cases it would come via the networks of local MNOs. If this type of service sees significant uptake in the marketplace—which would depend on it expanding beyond just these two auto-makers—MNOs would be seeing a new revenue stream. There would need to be mobile service contracts and plans, independent of existing smartphone plans. Or in-car service could be a new plan element to be added to the contracts of existing customers.
However, as we have frequently observed, operators do not want to be relegated to the role of “dumb pipes” in any sector of the mobile market, so in this case they may want to see what they provide to drivers in the way of special, relevant content. The challenge lies in the fact that in a sense, Google will have beaten them to it, by signing deals with Spotify and other content providers, as well as making its own content particularly easy to access. Nonetheless, we believe that MNOs can offer special access to information and entertainment content, as well, and that the best way to do this would be to target the content locally. Operators will be able to make deals of their own with content providers in the home regions of the customers, so that navigation aids, shopping aids, and even entertainment products could be tailored to the specific tastes and needs of the operator’s customers. And mobile operators do have privileged insight into their own customers’ preferences.