Google is already making a play for the dashboard with Android Auto, but the next version of its mobile operating system is being designed to cut out the phone entirely so it can find a permanent home in cars.

The underlying software to enable that ability will be built into the next release of Android – M, or possible 6.0 – when it debuts next year.

From Reuters:

Google Inc is laying the groundwork for a version of Android that would be built directly into cars, sources said, allowing drivers to enjoy all the benefits of the Internet without even plugging in their smartphones.

While Android Auto allows people with compatible devices to stream music, use Google Maps navigation, and voice commands, being integrated into the head unit is a whole new game for Google.

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The data alone is a massive incentive for the search giant, not just keeping tabs on location, but the myriad of onboard sensors, diagnostics, even the fuel gauge and back-up cameras. Add in an always-on data connection, which is becoming increasingly common, and Google has a rolling treasure trove of data and place to sell its services.

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Beyond the obvious privacy challenges, Google also has to get the software up to automotive-spec, making sure it's both stable and launches as soon as the driver switches on the ignition.

The prospect is both enticing and worrisome to automakers. They could benefit from the Android ecosystem and the software's ability to be reskinned to suit different brands and aesthetics. But at the same time, there's the question of who owns and controls the data, and whether getting into bed with Google is a smart choice long term.

We've already seen Honda partner with NVIDIA to bring Android into the new Euro-Civic, while Kia has played with it in the past and GM plans on releasing an Android-based multimedia system in 2016. But by developing Android software explicitly for cars, it doesn't have to be a hacked together solution – it's a way for Google to completely replace the infotainment system.

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