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Here's How Android Automotive OS Works

Illustration for article titled Heres How Android Automotive OS Works
Image: Volvo

While the new all-electric Volvo XC40 still hasn’t been officially shown to the public, Volvo has been keeping us well-updated with all the cool shit the new EV will have. And that includes introducing Android Automotive OS, a brand-new operating system that debuts on this car designed to level up Volvo’s infotainment game.

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Android Automotive OS is a result of Volvo teaming up with Google, as per the press release. The XC40 will have Google Maps, Google Assistant, and Google Play Store built-in—which means drivers will be able to download as many car-adapted apps as they like. Volvo has its own infotainment systems, obviously, and they’re used in the automaker’s new tablet-sized touch screens. But the Swedish company heavily implies Android Automotive OS is how things will go on future Volvos.

Rather than just being an app that interfaces with your smartphone like Android Auto, Android Automotive OS is built right into the car itself as its native system. That means you don’t need an Android-based phone to use it, either.

Here’s more from Volvo:

The new system offers full integration of Android Automotive OS, Google’s open-source Android platform, with real-time updates to services such as Google Maps, Google Assistant and automotive apps created by the global developer community.

[...]

This same rich and fresh map data will be used to improve the capabilities of the XC40’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) by providing important information such as speed limits and curves in the road to the car.

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Basically, this means the infotainment system in your Volvo will be capable of updating its software and OS via its own integrated WiFi, so the XC40 shouldn’t ever be plagued by the whole “shitty outdated infotainment system from four years ago” problem that seems to arise every time a newer, better model year is introduced. This seems a great use for over-the-air updates.

It’s a very good idea. As more and more people use in-car apps, the technology is only likely to get better, which means all Volvo needs to do right now is make sure its infotainment system is ergonomically pleasing. After all, it’ll be able to funnel updates any time Volvo works out a kink.

It remains to be seen exactly what this tech will be like in reality. But with the XC40 making its debut on October 16, it won’t be long before we find out.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

Serious question - does this still support Android Auto from an external device? I ask because this is not an improvement over the current implementation of Android Auto. It’s better than Sync and whatever Honda calls theirs, and all the other catastrophes the carmakers manage to come up with on their own, but I’d still rather have Android Auto.

When this is new and fresh, it’ll probably be great, but with time it’ll have the same problem as every other OEM infotainment - it’ll either be badly supported and get outdated, or it’ll be well-supported but the hardware won’t be able to keep up with the updated software in 5+ years.

Software gets more complex with time, and system requirements increase. The primary benefit of Android Auto and Apple Carplay are that the processing power behind that software stays up to date as well, as you upgrade your phone. Phones are expensive, but you’re going to buy one anyway; might as well lend that processing power to your car while you drive. That way, even years later, your infotainment will be running on the best hardware available and you won’t be relying on a carmaker for software updates.