GM’s Search for In-Car Tech Lands on Google

In the ongoing war for control of the digital space that is the modern car, Google just conquered a major swath of territory. This week, it and General Motors announced that the tech giant’s Android operating system will underpin the infotainment systems in GM’s cars, starting with some model year 2022 vehicles.

For future Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC drivers, that means built-in access to Google Maps and the ability to use Google Assistant to make calls, send texts, tune the radio, and more, without plugging in their phones. For GM, it’s an admission that people don’t want its house-made infotainment tech, and to give them what they do want. For Google, it’s more direct access to more consumers—GM accounts for 17 percent of new car sales in the US—in the rare place where they’re not supposed to have their phone in their hand.

In recent years, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have all tried to move into cars. It’s not a zero-sum game, and many automakers have worked with more than one tech company to connect their vehicles. Microsoft has partnered with car makers including Ford, Kia, and Hyundai to co-develop infotainment systems. Amazon is working with Audi, Toyota, Ford, and others to include Alexa into dozens of models, and its aftermarket Echo Auto does the same for older rides.

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Android Auto and Apple Carplay, which let drivers project their phone’s interface onto the center screen, are each available in more than 400 car models globally; many offer both systems. Even with this new Google deal, GM will continue to offer Apple Carplay in its cars. But the goal of the collaboration is to offer a more compelling way to stay connected while behind the wheel.

GM’s new interface will integrate the Android operating system into the car, as opposed to Android Auto, which just projects a phone’s interface onto the center screen.
Photograph: General Motors
“Many of our customers prefer the embedded technology experience in the car,” says Yasser Mirza, the senior product manager of GM’s connected commerce platform. “And they expect it to connect with what’s in their hand.” Android Auto and Apple Carplay offer that connection, but with limitations. Android Auto essentially runs Android alongside whatever system is built into the car. If you want to switch from a podcast to the car’s radio, you have to toggle between the two interfaces. They display apps like Google Maps on the center screen, but not the screen over the steering wheel or head up display, where navigation commands are easier to see without looking away from the road. (“That’s one area where we can get better,” says Haris Ramic, the product lead for Android Automotive.) In many models, pressing the voice command button on the steering wheel activates the car’s native voice recognition system, not Google’s or Apple’s.

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