Android Car Radios on Way

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Android is coming to car radios. An Android radio is already in production in a new Chinese car and more Android head units are expected to appear next month at the Hong Kong Electronics Show (October 13 to 16) and at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, say industry members.

Basically, Android will soon compete with the other leading car radio software platforms like Microsoft Auto found in the Ford Sync, QNX and Genivi.

The advantage with Android is, “You can make your head unit look and act like a smartphone. You don’t have to worry about emulating what’s on a smartphone,” said Phil Magney of iSuppli. Also, the user gets apps at his fingertips.

iSuppli spotted several Android Radios in May at the Auto China show in Beijing, but the “Android Car” got the most media attention. In a $10K to $20K Chinese car called the Roewe 350, the radio/DVD player is a standard feature. It has a touch screen and pre-installed apps for Internet Radio, navigation and for communicating with other Roewe car owners. Its Internet connection appears to be embedded and it uses Android 2.1.

The car is produced by the Chinese auto maker SAIC, which may purchase a stake in General Motors.

Industry members expect Android radios to appear in some of the booths at CES. But we’re not betting mainstream brands will adopt it just yet.

Kenwood sees the market as a niche for now but SVP consumer electronics Keith Lehmann says Android radios may become more popular as Android phones proliferate.

With Android you may permit many apps in the car that can be controlled by the car radio. But this opens up another can of worms in driver safety versus driver distraction noted suppliers.

On the other hand computers are coming to the car and they are going to need an OS.

Microprocessors are growing cheaper and so its becoming more reasonable to convert a car radio to a functioning computer, said iSuppli. “Head units in the car are going to be designed based on computer platforms,” said another iSuppli analyst Egil Juliussen. It will take a decade for this to become prevalent in the car. But it will likely be sooner for the aftermarket.

By the way, an Android radio could interface with smartphones on rival OSes like the iPhone.

Here’s a video of the Android radio in the Roewe 350 provided by iSuppli (Telematics Research).

Source: ChiniTech and CEoutlook

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