Audi has revealed that it has been working on a new infotainment system that will be used in future vehicles, and it’s based on the Android framework that is more commonly found in smartphones.

Interestingly, we’ve already had a glimpse of Audi’s Android infotainment system in the Audi Q8 concepts shown at the Paris Motor Show and Geneva Motor Show – at the time, Audi hadn’t announced that this system was built using Google’s operating system.

Now, we have further details revealing that some features typically reserved for dials and toggles – temperature, fan speed, drive mode selection, etc – are now going to be part of the operating system with digital, on-screen actions controlling them.

Audi says that they chose the Android operating system as the basis for their future infotainment systems because of the ability to develop new in-car apps much quicker than previously possible.

A demonstration of the new software was shown at the Google I/O Developer Conference where we got to see the new interactive dashboard – and we have to admit that it is a serious improvement over any in-car system that we’ve ever used.

The thing that stands out the most is how simplistic the interface is. It uses a widget-like home screen where you can place tools and information that’s important to you – in the demonstration we had a navigation app running on the left third, a music app running in the centre third, and the right third was split in to two smaller widgets for Drive Select (top) and Weather (bottom). A clean menu ran along the left hand side with time and network information in a small bar along the top, identical to how it would be shown on a mobile phone.

Audi has chosen to include the extremely current Google Assistant in their new infotainment system.

Audi defaulted the navigation system to use the HERE maps system – this is the system that many car manufacturers are opting to use in their future models as it will prove extremely valuable for piloted driving systems. You were able to change the navigation system to use Google Maps if you chose to, though.

Clicking in to an app brought up a full-screen version of the app. Navigation brought up a larger map on the display with directions shown in a clear list. Audi said that the maps will be always-online and always up-to-date – presumably, this will allow Audi and HERE to update maps with traffic and roadwork information. To go back to the home screen, there’s a simple button at the top of the menu.

The seamless music experience means that you can play songs from a CD, Spotify or other music apps in the same, simplistic interface. Sources shown included Spotify, Soundcloud, Google Play Music and Pandora music services. Presumably, you’ll also be able to select other apps that you have installed on your phone as well. Audi also showed that you can tap on a Playlist button that will bring up your favourite playlists in the app you’re in – in the Spotify app, it showed a list of recent playlists that were shown in a neat line (you can even swipe to show more playlists).

One big game changer is the inclusion of the Google Assistant. As other carmakers (including Volkswagen) have started creating partnerships with Amazon for their in-car Alexa technology, Audi has chosen to include the extremely current Google Assistant in their new system. Hold down a button on the steering wheel – or speak “OK, Google” – and the car will start listening to your request.

The example we were shown was, “Can you play Keane for me?” Google’s AI quickly worked out what was required of it, and it confirmed, “Okay, I will start playing Keane for you.” One of the reasons we’re intrigued by Audi’s choice of in-car assistant is because of Google’s work to reduce misheard commands on their software. They have significantly reduced errors from spoken requests in the last few years, so it should be a doddle to get your car to understand what you want it to do.

It’s worth noting that this is a step away from Android Auto – a tool that allows you to use apps from your mobile phone and control them on the infotainment system. This is a fully complete operating system that can run independently of your mobile phone. Using an in-car network, you will be able to listen to music, use your sat nav, and more. It’s unclear whether you’ll be able to install new apps to the operating system, or whether – when you pair your phone – the car will detect what apps you have installed and offer them as choices within the system.

Audi hinted that Android would also control the windows and sunroof, but confirmed that it would definitely control the air conditioning system on a separate touchscreen. The operating system will also span across to a next-generation Audi Virtual Cockpit so that it can show the same information in a concise way for the driver without having to make them look at the large display in the dashboard.

As Audi, and the Volkswagen Group in general, make partnerships with companies like Google with their Android operating system, we get a clear picture of what they want to achieve in the near future.
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