From Adam Turner at Google I/O in California:
Volvo is bringing Google's talkative smart assistant to life, with plans for the Volvo XC40 to become the first car to run fully-featured Android without the need to connect your phone.
Android fans have been waiting several years for Google to deliver on its promise to bring a standalone version of its smartphone operating system to vehicles. We've seen concept cars at Google's annual I/O developer conference in California, but until now nothing with a solid release date.
Meantime many Android users make do by mounting their phone on the dashboard and relying on the Android Auto sat-nav app. Others are fortunate enough to have an Android-compatible in-car system, letting them plug in their phone to use Android Auto on the console screen.
Google recently enabled wireless Android Auto on several handsets, eliminating the need to mess around with cables if you have a compatible wireless head unit, but they're yet to reach Australia.
Rather than rely on an Android smartphone to do the heavy lifting, the next step is to actually run Android on the car without the need to connect a phone.
At the end of last year, JVC and Kenwood unveiled aftermarket head units running onboard Android Auto, which have just come to market in the US. Now Volvo and Google are bringing standalone Android to the Volvo XC40 as part of the next-generation Volvo Sensus Connect infotainment system — not just running the Android Auto interface on the car but also adding the talkative Google Assistant, Google Maps and access to the Google Play app store.
Google has dubbed this factory-installed onboard system "Android Automotive", striking its first agreements with Volvo and Audi. Volvo's Android-powered XC40 was on show at this year's Google I/O developer conference, running the latest Android P update, but it won't hit showroom floors until 2020.
Volvo has reskinned Android to match the style of the car, with a large vertical touchscreen display in the centre console and a smaller secondary display in the instrument cluster behind the wheel. Tight integration with the car means that Android can do much than just offer driving directions and play music.
When it recognises the driver by their phone or keyfob, the Volvo automatically adjusts the seat and mirrors to suit your preferences. Meanwhile the Android menus adjust to the new driver, serving up your personalised apps, media library and calendar.
Anticipating your needs, the car checks your calendar and automatically enters the destination in into the onscreen satnav. The secondary screen in the cluster continues to show satnav directions, including 3D maps, when you're using the main screen for other tasks. Volvo plans to replace its own navigation system with Google Maps, bringing with it real-time traffic and regular map updates.
Volvo and Google are still working out the finer details of how Android will run on the car. A button on the steering wheel calls up Google Assistant — without the need to preface your requests with "Okay Google" — and it can handle your queries just like a Google Home smart speaker. The XC40 on show at Google's developer conference also responded to the phrase "Hey Google", but this may not be the case with the final release.
Thousands of third-party apps are compatible with Android Auto, primarily media apps like Spotify, messaging apps like WhatsApp and navigation apps like Waze. Google's latest Android Auto release introduces support for Rich Communication Services (a potential successor to SMS), group messaging and improved music search.
Adam Turner travelled to Google I/O in California as a guest of Google.