Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

Does Google Dream of Electric Sheep?

by Roger Lanctot | 7月 04, 2014

I take the title of my blog from the Philip K. Dick science fiction novel upon which the movie "Blade Runner" was based. One element of the movie is bounty hunter Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) effort to retire six escaped Nexus-6 brain model androids. In the process he explores what it is to be human and the lack of empathy of the androids.

Google, too, lacks empathy in its single-minded advance on multiple operating environments - mobile, wearable, automotive - with little regard for the application requirements of each space. Google announced Android Auto at Google-I/O last week and later revealed further details.

The latest report from Ars Technica is that Google wants to control elements of the Android Auto UI. In the words of "Google tells Ars Technica that it will maintain sole (official) control over the interface for all three new platforms, rather than give that power to manufacturers. While companies will be allowed branding and extra services, they won't get to modify the core experience. You won't see a Gear Live sequel with the Gear 2's front end, for example, or find your way around town with a Honda-exclusive take on Android Auto."

Full story:

There are those who question whether Android should be considered an operating system - some call it nothing more than Linux with a Dalvik virtual machine running Java apps - but now it looks as if Google wants Android to be an app. Only an app supplier would concern itself with UI issues.

The last time an OS supplier tried to manhandle the UI part of the stack it contributed to creating a mass market for desktop computers. Of course, this applies to both Apple and the Mac and Microsoft and the PC.

(It is worth noting that Microsoft was never successful in getting multiple car companies to adopt a single UI. But Microsoft and Nuance - with Ford SYNC - did help Ford create a consistent, brand-defining UI experience across multiple car models.)

Cars are different. No two car makers have ever taken identical paths to implementing in-vehicle platforms for content acquisition and consumption. The UI in every car is unique. It is one of the defining and maddening aspects of the automotive industry.

Since Google lacks empathy it is unable to grasp this fundamental element of the automotive industry. In cars, screens are all different sizes - if they are there at all - and interfaces include voice, touch, hardware controllers, and steering wheel buttons and switches. In-vehicle interfaces are inextricably tied to branding. One need look no further than the hardware controllers of Audi, BMW, Lexus, Honda, Infiniti, Mazda and Mercedes.

Even Pandora, which is one of the most rigidly prescriptive automotive app developers, allows its app to be rendered differently across multiple car makers. When iBiquity entered the market with HD Radio, it stayed out of the UI debate - though later offering suggested implementations.

Perhaps the only company that has thus far gotten away with any sort of UI requirement is Sirius XM, which is rendered in nearly identical fashion in most cars - though making allowances for different UI strategies from car maker to car maker.

Google's dream of delivering a consistent experience across multiple car makers is just another indication of how out of touch the company really is. Rather than offering support for the UI development effort that will be required to implement Android Auto or providing suggested UI best practices, the company appears determined to shove some sort of one-size-fits-all solution on the industry.

Like its power consumption shortcomings and slow boot time, the UI requirements are a meaningless distraction. There is no question that Google Automotive link will be different from car to car - just as CarPlay and Pandora are different in each car.

The real point of failure, though, the difference between Google and Apple is that Google won't invest in the army of evangelists necessary to indoctrinate consumers in car company booths at trade shows or even in dealerships. Only Apple understands the importance of direct customer engagement and has demonstrated the willingness to commit the resources to directly engage consumers. Just another case of Google being asleep at the wheel. Dream on, Google. Dream on.

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