I’m using Android Automotive on the Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge that I have on test. This means the car runs natively on Google’s operating system for cars; Volvo was the first manufacturer to partner with Google for the operating system.
An important thing to note is that Android Automotive is different to Android Auto. Android Auto lets you connect your smartphone to the car and mirrors it in a compact format, whereas Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS) is a full on operating system running on the car, without the need to pair a smartphone.
Interacting on Android Automotive
Just like your smartphone, you will interact primarily through touch, and Volvo has a large 9-inch infotainment display in the centre. It feels like a tablet and some may consider it a distraction. Very quickly you will realise what a fingerprint magnet it is and unfortunately there’s no way to avoid it.
Smartphones tend to have a back button but with Android Automotive, when you go deep into the menu settings, there’s no easy way to tap a button and go back. I did find this tricky while driving and needing to do something, which required me to manually tap back to get to another menu. It does have a pull down notification screen like a phone.
Privacy, permissions, and security
As you know with regular Android, there’s a ton of data that Google collects from you, and these settings are typical switched on by default. Android Automotive is no different, which is why it’s so important to read all the Ts&Cs. You always need to be aware of what data you’re giving up.
You can go into the Settings menu and you can view permissions under applications, Google Maps, Profiles, etc. You can also view them by Google ones, and Volvo ones. Applications show you whats using location, contacts, camera, phone, microphone, etc.
The car also lets you check for security and OS updates, because Android. It runs on Android 11 and lets you know when the last security update was installed, in this case, 1 June 2022. By default, it is set to automatic updates so toggle this if you control the data you use.
With Google Assistant, when I first asked it for directions, it will pick it up but it won’t offer to drive me there, which requires a secondary prompt. This was a bit frustrating while I was driving and asked for directions but ended up manually typing it because at the time, I didn’t know what the follow up command was. I just tried afterwards by tapping the voice button on the steering wheel and said “start” as a follow up.
It’s important to go into Assistant settings and decide what works for you. There’s an option that says “allow personal results in the car”, which includes messages, contacts, places etc; something to be mindful if you have others in your car etc. Others are mostly suggestions, notifications, language etc. I didn’t use this as often as I thought I would.
If you read my blog, you know I love Google Maps, and it will always be the best navigation system with live traffic info; nothing else comes close to real time info imo. In Joburg, I use it to check how long it will take me to a destination, even when I know where I am going, which I usually do. Android Automotive will offer things like offline map downloads – definitely a good idea because signal on the road will always be spotty.
But what you should also check out is the privacy settings inside the app. The following options are turned on by default, because Google: “Share trip and sensor data with Google”, and “Share EV data with Google”.
As I mentioned earlier, you have to know what data Google collects on you. EV data for example will send this to Google: battery level, capacity, charging speed, aircon status, engine braking and efficiency, specs of car, etc. It says in return the info will be used to tell you car range, battery estimates based on destination, recommended minimum charge times, etc. Remember, this is specific to Google Maps and just be aware what you’re willing to share.
Apps and Google Play Store
The default page on the infotainment system is the list of apps that’s installed. It’s very basic with no effort on design. I’m not even sorry about the fingerprints visible on this photo, it’s impossible to wipe it down all the time.
It is still very limited when it comes to apps. You will mostly see news, podcasting, and audio related apps. I read online there was a browser available but not in our region, and I’m still a while away from side loading apps on a car, though it’s tricky when you don’t own it or can’t just wipe/reset the car, etc. Yes, you can see the Apple CarPlay app on there, which I’ll get to shortly.
Using different profiles
If you’re sharing the car with your partner, you may want to look into the profiles feature. Once the primary person is logged in, the data will be tied to them. This includes notifications related to their account, and if they have YouTube Premium, they can access YouTube Music. I do have access to it but I was not willing to log into my personal account on the test car.
You simply pull down the notifications tab like you would for a smartphone and you will see options for this, or you can create a new profile for yourself. This could be useful when testing too, so the destinations you put into Google Maps does not remain on the main person’s history (which Google stores for 18 months, unless turned off, via web). This is the main reason I didn’t put my home address on the account logged into the vehicle because you can’t delete it directly from the car.
Something I found a bit suspicious, when toggled back into the owners profile set on the Volvo, it gave a notification that there was a new sign-on activity on the Volvo – without need a password. I haven’t looked into it, but it would be great if there was a PIN code attached to switching accounts for privacy reasons.
I am testing Apple CarPlay on the XC40 P8 Recharge, and just a disclaimer, this is a test phase, it’s not final and hasn’t been pushed to customers yet. So even if it didn’t work properly, which wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t matter. Also, this is more a Volvo feature, not Android Automotive.
I absolutely loved access to Apple CarPlay, because the interface is familiar to me, and extra points for design. I also get access to my own accounts, logged in on my smartphone. I’m sure you would have gathered how important privacy is to me – I will read the Ts&Cs before signing up to services, and use fake numbers where I can.
With CarPlay, I have zero stress about my personal data and footprint being left of the car. I can put any address into Google Maps, have messages read out to me, make calls, etc when I disconnect, it’s like I was never there. This is also why I’d pick Android Auto, but alas it doesn’t work on Android Automotive. Having access to CarPlay doesn’t matter that the car runs on Android Automotive anymore. As long as I can pair my primary device, I’m happy.
Interestingly, previous Volvo cars (not EV), let you use CarPlay wirelessly, also one of the first ones to offer wireless CarPlay if memory serves me correct, but this one requires an iPhone cable. And because the car only has USB-C ports, it means only phones from iPhone 11 upwards can be plugged into it – because it came with that cable. Otherwise, you can buy the cable and then plug an older iPhone into it (I’ve not tried it, I assume it would work).
Okay, that’s it for my ‘quick look’ and Android Automotive. It ended up being longer than I expected, but these are the most important bits I think you should be aware of.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 15 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org