If you listen to my national radio show or visit my website, you've probably already heard me warn about the dangers of distracted driving. And one of the biggest distractions in a car is the smartphone.
Look around and it's common to see drivers looking down at their screen, texting, pulling up driving directions, changing their music or doing whatever else instead of paying attention to where they're going. That gets people killed, which is why both Google and Apple are looking for a better solution.
In fact, when Google started doing research on the project it had employees volunteer to have cameras put in their car. Speaking to Buzzfeed News, the lead product manager, Andrew Brenner, recalls looking at the footage. “We were like, (heck), people are doing really unsafe things in their cars.”
Based on that work, the best and the brightest at Google put their heads together to come up with a safer system. Now their efforts are paying off. Starting with the 2015 model year, at least five auto makers are offering Google's new system in their cars. Even better, these car makers aren't just the high-dollar luxury brands, either. These are brands you might see in nearly anyone's driveway.
Google's solution is Android Auto, and it's finally available on the new 2015 Hyundai Sonata. Car makers Bentley, Nissan, Jeep, Infiniti and others are on board to offer it soon as well.
Android Auto isn't actually a standalone unit; it's mostly just a touchscreen built into the car's dashboard. You have to link up an Android gadget with a USB cable to make it work. This is also how Apple's CarPlay will work.
That's a little annoying, but it does have a privacy advantage. There's no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection for passing hackers to snoop on. Plus, if your car is broken into or stolen, the thieves won't get a full Android system with your information in it. Everything is stored in your phone that you'll probably take with you.
Once your gadget is plugged in, you can control it via the touchscreen, dashboard and steering wheel buttons and voice commands. The screen displays a driver-friendly version of the Android apps you want to use while driving.
Here it is in action:
That does mean not every Android app is supported. In fact, Android Auto disables apps it feels might be unsafe to use while driving. You mostly get access to navigation, radio or select music apps, and voice calling. It does let you interact with Google Now as well for personal assistant features.
While those limitations might annoy some people, and they can easily get around them by unplugging their phone, it will hopefully help many people driver safer. Apples CarPlay should be arriving soon as well, and it looks like most car companies are going to support both in the same vehicle, so you shouldn't be locked into one system or the other.
Does Android Auto sound like a feature you'd want in your next car? Let me know in the comments.