Google and Audi, the world’s second-largest luxury carmaker, will announce next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that they will be collaborating to develop an Android-based software interface for future Audi vehicles.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, the deal will see Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and the German maker of the A8 full-sized luxury car and the TT roadster, working together to develop digital entertainment and vehicle information systems using the same Linux-based software Google offers smartphones and tablet computers.
This is neither the first nor the last time a tech company has partnered with a global auto company to design the future of how drivers and passengers interact with their cars. More than 80 million cars and light trucks are sold worldwide every year, and these connectivity and interface options will be increasingly common moving forward.
The question is, who will emerge as the preeminent provider of the technology behind the touch screen? According to automotive pricing and information provider Kelley Blue Book (KBB), consumers appear to be gravitating toward Apple and Google, which is in keeping with what we’ve seen in recent months. It also makes sense, considering that consumers seem to want seamless integration with the portable devices they already own, offering Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS an advantage.
The KBB market intelligence survey suggests more than two-thirds of car buyers would simply prefer autos use the top two most common operating systems for electronic devices, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Microsoft trails far behind. Almost as many people are either indifferent to or would like to see some other software running these infotainment interfaces than those who would like Microsoft-supported technology.
Windows might be the world’s most popular computing operating system, but it’s trailing in mobile devices. That doesn’t mean it won’t succeed in cars – after all, more goes into running a dashboard infotainment system than simply being able to plug in your iOS or Android smartphone. Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) chose Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) as the provider of the automaker’s Sync hand-free entertainment communicator in 2007, and continues to offer this popular option in 14 Ford and five Lincoln models. In other words, there’s plenty of room for these “Big Three” software developers.
“Like cell phone suppliers, we’ll probably end up with two or three big technology players in the automotive realm rather than one company that powers everything,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for automotive pricing and information provider Kelley Blue Book. “But unlike phones that range from $0 to $500, a consumer’s preference for a given operating system will influence a $20,000-$100,000-plus big- ticket item, making this a high-stakes race.”
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) launched an effort to boost the number of vehicles that can easily integrate with gadgets running Apple’s iOS operating system. Apple is also promoting the use of its voice-controlled Siri “knowledge navigator” in vehicles. Audi has already announced all 2014 models will carry Siri support, and General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM), Mercedes-Benz from Daimler AG (FRA:DAI) and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE:HMC) have all committed to offering support for the hand-free Apple interface.