Android Auto
Android Auto pops up when an Android phone is plugged into a compatible vehicle's dashboard interface. Google

Google Inc. is taking its next step toward occupying your car. The technology giant says its Android operating system is now optimized to let software developers work with dashboard touch screens regardless of “vehicle-specific hardware differences.”

As a result, third-party developers can start creating apps, or offer existing software, without worrying about the specific display configurations and resolutions of the various touch-screen interfaces that manufacturers place in cars. The move comes as Google and rival tech giant Apple vie to supplant auto manufacturers’ own software interfaces as the preferred means of interaction within vehicles -- especially in the areas of audio and communications.

Users can “simply connect their Android handheld to a compatible vehicle and begin utilizing a car-optimized Android experience that works with the car’s head unit display, steering wheel buttons,” says Daniel Holle on the Android Developer’s Blog.

Automakers are offering compatibility because they recognize younger consumers’ desire to interact with their smartphones through vehicle interfaces. In an attempt to go after the under-30 crowd, for example, Kia Motors has stepped forward to embrace the Android environment in its 2014 Soul compact. The car’s infotainment system is preloaded with Android apps for music streamer Pandora and Google Maps for navigation, which connect through a plugged-in smartphone.

Twenty-eight brands from most major manufacturers will come with Android Auto compatibility in the near future. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are noticeably absent from the list.