The state of Android Automotive in 2024
The car industry is still in the middle of the transition to Android Automotive. At Snapp Automotive, we’re at the center of this change working with a wide range of mobility companies from major OEMs to startups and suppliers. So we took a step back and looked at the state of Android in the car industry in 2024.
To Android or not to Android?
In 2024, most car brands have publicly announced they are switching to Android Automotive. There are only a few exceptions. The first one is Tesla, which remains with Linux. The second one is Mercedes, which uses Linux at the platform level but will incorporate Android apps as third-party services.
There is another interesting group which is the Chinese brands coming to Europe, such as BYD. Even though they run Android, it is often standard, non-automotive Android.
The vast majority of OEMs have, or will have, an Android Automotive OS-based system (AAOS). This leads to the second question: to GAS or not to GAS?
GAS vs Non-GAS
Anyone can take the Android Open Source project and modify it to create their own infotainment system. But to get Google Maps, the Google Play Store, and Google Assistant, carmakers will have to enter into a commercial agreement with Google for their Google Automotive Services (GAS). So far, Volvo, Polestar, Renault, Ford (Lincoln), GM, Nissan, and Honda are the brands with cars on the road with GAS. Porsche also announced that future vehicles will have GAS, even though the other VW Group brands won’t (so far).
Having access to the most popular navigation services and the Play Store is the big advantage of GAS. One disadvantage for carmakers is that Google services may not be as popular in some markets, or even blocked, as is the case in China. Google also sets a couple of minimum requirements for example in terms of hardware performance and software testing. Car makers licensing GAS need to pass Google’s Automotive Test Suite (ATS) and comply with minimum hardware requirements. It makes GAS an expensive option and also means that carmakers will be quite dependent on Google without much influence on their feature roadmap.
Furthermore, with an increased focus on big tech’s power, the German government is now investigating Google Automotive Services for antitrust, stating four reasons:
Google offers vehicle manufacturers the services Google Maps, Google Play, and Google Assistant as a bundle only (referred to as “Google Automotive Services”).
Google grants certain vehicle manufacturers a share of the advertising revenue on condition that they refrain from pre-installing other voice assistants next to Google Assistant.
Google Automotive Services license holders must set Google services as a default or display them prominently.
Google limits or refuses to allow interoperability of the services included in the Google Automotive Services with third-party services
Most other carmakers will not opt for GAS. Instead, they are licensing different navigation systems from the likes of Mapbox, TomTom, or HERE, implementing a voice assistant like Alexa, and going with a third-party app store like Faurecia Aptoide. The core advantages are flexibility and cost. Carmakers have fewer constraints and more control over the features they offer. They are not stuck to one supplier so they can choose which services to partner with and relatively easily change between them. Consequently, they can even adapt the services to different markets. They are still not totally free to do as they want though because Google still sets limitations on technical implementation and features. One such example is that Google requires each Android Automotive system to have a notification center.
The brands who have, or announced, non-GAS cars are Stellantis, BMW, MINI, Dacia, Lucid, Rivian, Lotus, and Lynk & Co. One of the things to look out for is the new infotainment system of the VW Group which should be released soon. The Porsche Macan will be the first VW Group brand with an Android system. Although it is a non-GAS system, Porsche has announced to go with GAS in the near future.
Updates to Android 14
The yearly update of Android usually includes some features related to Android Automotive. Android 14 is the latest version and its most interesting addition is support for multi-screen. Android Automotive OS 14 now allows for new experiences between drivers and passengers, including individual and shared entertainment experiences. With more displays in the interior, the infotainment system will become much more holistic, for example, giving the front passengers control over the screens in the back.
It will take some time before these features make it to most new cars as carmakers are usually a few Android versions behind the latest.
You get an app store, you get an app store, everybody gets an app store
The story of third-party app stores is interesting and will have a major impact on the success of non-GAS Android Automotive. One of the main advantages of using Android is the access to the massive ecosystem of developers and third-party apps. When choosing to go with GAS, carmakers get access to the Google Play store, which has over 3,5 million apps.
It is important to note that most of the apps are not available inside cars though. The provider of the app store not only delivers a marketplace for apps but is also responsible for moderation and, to some extent, the interaction between the driver and the app. Therefore, Google enforces the same templating system for apps on AAOS as it does on Android Auto. An app that is adapted to Android Auto can work on AAOS as well with minor changes. Though, not all categories of apps are available yet. For example, messaging apps are available for Android Auto but not yet for Android Automotive. That is why the set of available apps is pretty small at the moment. But since the Play Store already has millions of apps, there is a lot of potential.
Another reason why there are few automotive apps at the moment is that the market is too small. Samsung, one of many Android mobile device manufacturers, sells more mobile devices in a quarter than the entire automotive industry sells cars in a year. There are a total of 3,6 billion Android users globally, the android-powered car part is tiny, and as an app developer, spending time to create and maintain an automotive app is low on the priority list.
If the Google Play store only has a few Automotive apps, how will third-party app stores populate their app stores? Building an app store is not a technical challenge (as we know from personal experience). What is a challenge is to populate the app store, manage developer relations, and retain developers to ensure apps are kept up to date. With the introduction of Visteon's AllGo App Store, the total number of third-party, white-label automotive Android app stores now totals 6, with Faurecia Aptoide and Harmann Ignite being the largest. This means a developer will have to submit and maintain apps between 7 different providers in order to be in all Android-powered cars.
That is one challenge, but here comes the next. If each app store were to enforce its own templating system and APIs, developers would not only have to submit to 7 different app stores but also adapt their app for each. Even though there are carmakers who are convinced that developers will submit to their specific app store, it will obviously not work. That is why we were part of an initiative within COVESA to standardize this.
COVESA, which stands for Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance, is a global alliance focused on the development of open standards and technologies for connected vehicles. It is a member-driven alliance that aims to accelerate the development of a more diverse, sustainable, and integrated mobility ecosystem. The alliance provides its members with a global development community joining automotive software resulting in open source standards. Within this context, we’re part of an initiative that aims to standardize the non-GAS templates and APIs for third-party applications. This will mean that an app will run on any non-GAS system without the need for changes between app stores.
Time will tell whether it will work, but if it does and carmakers adopt it, it will become a serious alternative to Google Automotive Services. Otherwise, there will be little hope for third-party app stores to compete with the Google Play Store.
Just because you use Android doesn’t mean the software is fast and bug-free. Up until recently, all infotainment developers at OEMs and Tier 1s were working with Linux. Android, even though it is Linux-based, is totally different. Naturally, developers don’t gain Android knowledge overnight.
Using an entirely new platform has implications from hardware to design. What makes this even more difficult is the lack of documentation out there. Since we work with several OEMs next to developing our own infotainment system, we’ve encountered problems ranging from having an unsupported hardware architecture, an operating system design that isn’t feasible in Android, to running multiple different incompatible UI frameworks at the same time.
Android is often seen as an equivalent to Linux. This leads carmakers to believe that simply switching the software platform without adapting the features and design is the right way to go. However, when changing to Android, a number of important long-lasting technical decisions have to be made. With a lack of experience, often carmakers find themselves going in the wrong direction, discovering technical constraints too late, and spending a lot of time and money to reverse these bad decisions. OEMs also can’t turn to their usual software vendors for help as they are facing the same problems. It is no surprise then that software issues continue to cause model introduction delays, consumer backlash, and recalls.
For carmakers, it highlights the need to have a deep understanding of the platform and a collaboration between all disciplines, from design to hardware architecture. Which is easier said than done. Similarly, business decisions require knowledge of Android and the developer ecosystem. The app store situation shows the inexperience and wishful thinking that goes on inside the car industry at the moment.
What about Apple?
Porsche and Aston Martin were the first brands to announce an integration with the next generation of Apple CarPlay. This new version will have a deeper integration with the car, which means more work for the carmaker to integrate. However, it will still sit on top of an operating system, which is Android in most cases.
So if you are a carmaker you have interesting choices to make with a lot of unknowns. Opting for only Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is not an option as a native operating system is still necessary. Android Automotive is an obvious choice. But do you go with GAS or not? If you don’t go with GAS, do you license a third-party app store or provide a number of system apps? And if you offer Apple CarPlay, do you invest time and resources into the new version?
It is clear that the operating system landscape is wide open at the moment and we will see major carmakers choose widely different strategies.
What will 2024 have in store for Android?
It feels like the car industry is at a similar stage as early smartphones or smart TVs with everyone choosing a different approach. The big underlying problem is that carmakers are spending billions on the development of infotainment, but have little experience with Android. We will see varying degrees of success and different approaches. On a strategic level, the app store story is important. A lot of the success of non-GAS will depend on it. If carmakers manage to work together and recognize the problem and opportunity, this will pose a serious threat to Google.