Android Automotive OS: From Android to auto a deep dive

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Android Automotive OS has gained traction in the last five years, with the operating system currently implemented in 15 vehicle brands. But the term Android Automotive OS sometimes causes confusion with Google Android Auto. 

In this article, we′ll clarify the differences between these two terms, and explain the pros and cons of each. 

What is the difference between Android Auto and Automotive?

Android Automotive OS is a full-scale standalone car operating system that works from the vehicle's head unit. It's a custom version of Android, whereas Android Auto is an app that allows Android phones to connect to the infotainment system. Android Automotive OS is more deeply integrated with the vehicle.  

How does Android Automotive OS work?

Android Automotive OS works in a completely standalone fashion. It contains a limited interface aimed at reducing distractions, and blocks access to certain features while driving. The OS connects deeply with many of the car's built-in electronics, such air conditioning and sometimes even the starter. 

How does Android Automotive connect to the internet?

Android Automotive OS uses a SIM card to connect to the internet via a data plan. Another option is to tether Android Automotive OS to your phone to share its internet capability, if that feature is available for the vehicle model you're using. 

Android Automotive apps

Android Automotive OS has been custom-developed to run on a vehicle's hardware. Its interface is much simpler than the Android versions used on phones and tablets, and its home screen is separated into four major sections for you to navigate easily.

When Android Automotive OS first launched, few compatible apps existed in the Google Play store for it. This remains an issue—by June 2022, only 38 apps were available for Android Automotive OS. 

Fans of the Waze navigation app were glad to hear that it finally became available for Android Automotive OS in 2022, but the app doesn't integrate deeply into Android Automotive OS like Google Maps does. 

What is Android Auto app?

The Google Android Auto app is an app that runs on the Android operating system. It's Google's version of Apple's CarPlay, displaying a special driving-friendly interface that can be used as-is on your device, or projected onto the car's infotainment system. 

Android Auto runs on your phone, and can be set up to automatically switch on when it detects that you're in your vehicle. Conversely, Android Automotive OS is a full-scale operating system that runs as an embedded Android solution inside the vehicle itself. 

What cars use Android Automotive OS?

The following major car manufacturers have models that use Android Automotive OS: Audi, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Honda, Lincoln, Lucid, Maserati, Polestar, Renault (Europe only) Rivian, and Volvo. 

How does Android Auto work? What are the main Android Auto features?

In essence, Android Auto is a way to mirror your smartphone on your car's infotainment system. 

The app shares many similar features with Android automotive cars, the primary differences being that you have to first connect your phone to the car for Android Auto to work, whereas Android Automotive OS  is built into the car itself.

Both, the OS and the app, let you operate Google Assistant and issue commands, although the Android Automotive OS version of this feature lets you change settings in the vehicle itself, such as the air conditioning. 

The Android Auto interface is essentially a simplified version of your phone′s interface, and not all apps are compatible with Android Auto mode. But far more apps work through the Android App connection than through Android Automotive OS. 

Once you've set up the Android Auto connection with your phone, it should start every time you start your car in the future. Unfortunately, even top model phones sometimes struggle to get this right, giving Android Automotive OS an edge in this case. 

Android Auto compatible cars

Not all cars are compatible with Android Auto, but the list of Android Auto compatible cars is far more extensive than Android Automotive OS. Android Auto also works with many stereos. 

In total, more than 60 vehicle manufacturers produce Android Auto compatible cars, and over 500 models of stereos and vehicles support Android Auto. 

Stereo manufacturers that support Android Auto are:

  • AAMP
  • Adayo
  • Alpine
  • Axxera
  • Bauhn
  • Blaupunkt
  • Boss Audio Systems
  • Caska
  • Clarion
  • CVTE
  • Dual
  • Evus
  • iNav
  • JBO
  • JBL
  • Jensen
  • JVC
  • Kenwood
  • Macrom
  • Nakamichi
  • Norauto Sound
  • Panasonic
  • Pioneer
  • Planet Audio
  • Prology
  • Skypine
  • SmartAuto
  • Sony
  • UniMax
  • Zenec

What's better: Android Automotive OS or Android Auto?

Android Automotive OS does away with many of the frustrations of Android Auto, but the app ecosystem has moved very little since the OS was announced in 2017. 

Only newer vehicles support Android Automotive OS, many of them in the higher price ranges, putting it out of reach of many users. But adoption is picking up, and this trend might improve the app ecosystem as well. 

Android Auto has far wider support, but lacks the deeply integrated features that make Android Automotive OS shine. 

Emteria helps vehicle manufacturers maintain secure Android Automotive OS solutions

For manufacturers implementing Android Automotive OS, emteria offers a reliable solution to keep the OS secure. Emteria's infrastructure has been supporting organizations deploy and manage enterprise Android versions for years, and the company is now offering the solution for Android Automotive OS as well. 

Over-the-Air software updates are crucial to maintain Android data security, but especially in vehicle software because unpatched flaws in the software could pose severe risk to drivers and passengers. EU law also requires that companies implement an OTA solution to deliver updates. 

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Learn more about how to effectively scale device fleets that meet critical security requirements like OTA update management.

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Emteria has invested many years and resources to create one of the most reliable OTA delivery systems for Android in enterprise and industrial contexts, including delivering only the necessary update files (called delta or incremental updates) to the system to reduce bandwidth. 

Contact emteria today to learn about our straightforward and reliable approach to keeping Android Automotive OS-equipped vehicles up-to-date and secure. ⬇️

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