Last year, Android Auto was unleashed at Google’s big developer’s conference, but that was just a taste of its dashboard ambitions. At next week’s Google I/O, all signs point to the company giving us a glimpse into a new infotainment system designed from the ground-up to be powered by Android.

Currently, Google’s in-car play is limited to Android Auto, which does maps, music, texts, calls, and voice searches. But when Google shows off the latest version of its mobile OS – Android “M” – part of that announcement is reportedly a car-specific build designed that could control everything from the stereo to the climate control and more.

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Last November, the CEO of Harman International – the maker of everything from headunits to headphones, and a major automotive supplier – said that part of a recent $900 million contract it landed with General Motors included a next-generation infotainment system. That system would be based on Android, Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal, said, and it’s scheduled to land inside GM vehicles in 2016.

Harman, along with General Motors, 28 other automakers and several suppliers, is part of the Google-led Open Automotive Alliance, which has been actively working with the search giant on getting Android up to “automotive-grade.” That means infinitesimal start and load times, and a rigorous testing regimen.

The following month, Reuters reported that Google was laying the groundwork for a version of Android that could be built directly into cars, citing sources that said it would enable “drivers to enjoy all the benefits of the Internet without even plugging in their smartphones.”

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Two people briefed on the plans said that this auto-specific implementation would be part of the Android M release this year, but that the OS “would need major improvements in performance and stability for carmakers to adopt it.” Specifically, boot times would need to be much quicker than the 30-seconds-or-so that it takes to load the OS on a smartphone or tablet.

Android has already landed in a few cars, including the new Civic in Europe. Kia has toyed with it and McLaren uses Google’s mobile OS throughout its line-up, from the 650S to the P1.

Just this week, Mitsubishi – the “Electric” arm, not the automaker – announced it’s developing an affordable, Android-powered unit called FLEXConnect In-Vehicle Infotainment that combines a 12.1-inch center screen with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster, and head-up display all powered by a chipset supplied by Texas Instruments.

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But these Android builds have all been tweaked within an inch of their lives, and that’s something Google wants to remedy with it’s own dedicated automotive release.

Obviously, Google’s goal is to continue to grow its active Android user base – now well over one billion devices – and get more of that sweet, sweet data. And with Android completely integrated into the car, the amount of information it could draw from greatly expands. Everything from in-car sensors to cameras to fuel consumption and more could feed its data-hungry advertising model.

It’s Google’s next shot at making cars another node in the network, foisting them into the dubious Internet Of Things while expanding its reach into a new category of devices.

But as always, it’s a question about implementation.

Automakers still haven’t begun shipping Android Auto-compatible cars nearly a year after its official release. Further, they’re obsessed with exacting massive levels of control on every aspect of the car – from functionality to branding. Ceding anything to an outside party is anathema to they way they’ve run things up until now, and that, more than boot times, will be the biggest challenge for Google.


Contact the author at damon@jalopnik.com.
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