Google OAA

Car tech has, until now, been largely proprietary with manufacturers doing their own thing with safety features and infotainment. At CES 2014, Google has announced the Open Automotive Alliance with the aim to bring Android to cars by the end of the year.

Audi, Honda, Hyundai, GM and Nvidia are all OAA partners and are looking to offer drivers a system that offers openness and customisation.

"Putting Android in the car will bring drivers apps and services they already know and love, while enabling automakers to more easily deliver cutting-edge technology to their customers. And it will create new opportunities for developers to extend the variety and depth of the Android app ecosystem," Patrick Brady, director of Android engineering said in a blog post.

Kia and Renault already use Android-based infotainment systems, while Parrot’s Asteroid Smart is essentially an Android tablet that can be installed in any car that has room for a double-DIN headunit.

The benefit of a standardised approach, though, is that developers can produce apps for just one platform instead of having to tailor them for Renault, Parrot or any other locked-down system which has its own app store. See also: Renault R-Link review

Other tech companies including Apple and Microsoft are also working hard on bridging the gap between mobile devices and cars. Apple's CEO Tim Cook has called such an integration very important, naming it a key focus.

At its last World Wide Developer Conference, Apple introduced iOS in the Car, an interface for cars that allows owners of the iPhone 5 or newer devices to make calls, access music, get directions and send and receive messages using the car's display and controls. Around 20 car manufacturers have shown interest in the system, according to Apple.

There’s also the Siri “Eyes Free” feature which several companies including Honda are beginning to include in some vehicles. It’s similar to iOS in the car, but means drivers can perform tasks by speaking commands instead of using a screen.

Microsoft is working with Fiat to develop Blue&Me which is yet another system for pairing a Bluetooth device and allowing drivers to make calls, listen to text messages and play music without taking their hands off the steering wheel. Microsoft also has its hand in the separate Sync project with Ford, which offers similar features.

The OAA is developing new Android platform features that will enable cars to become connected Android devices. It’s a step in the right direction, but it needs more manufacturers to sign up for it to truly become a standard.

Recent IDC research has shown that 75 percent of respondents would prefer to use their current mobile devices to access in-car services. In fact, they wouldn't leave their smartphones behind even if they could – less than 19 percent of respondents would rather services come directly from the vehicle without mobile device integration. Both BMW and Renault offer such systems with a built-in SIM for direct internet access.

"According to our study, most consumers find it vital to access the phone in the vehicle but also want to maintain their ‘digital identity' by connecting their current device to the vehicle," said Sheila Brennan, program manager for IDC Manufacturing Insights' Connected Vehicle Strategies. "Therefore, automakers that have a strategy that allows consumers to access their own devices service as well as any unique embedded services that come with the vehicle will gain an advantage in the connected vehicle market."

So, 2014 is shaping up to be the year in which Google, Apple and Microsoft compete for the driver's seat in car tech. Whether infotainment and safety systems will merely become an extension of your smartphone or be fully fledged systems in their own right remains to be seen.

Download your FREE issue of Android Advisor, the brand new monthly digital magazine dedicated to everything Android.