Auto technology gives mobile computing a new meaning |
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A demonstration of Android Auto is given during the Google I/O 2014 keynote presentation in San Francisco, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. As the Internet giant's Android operating system stretches into cars, homes and smartwatches, this year's annual confab will expand on its usual focus on smartphones and tablets. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

LOS ANGELES — Apple and Google want to get in your car.

The tech giants have partnered with automakers to bring technology into vehicles that’s familiar and intuitive. Both sides are hoping to solve a problem that has been vexing drivers for years: The inability to easily and safely access smartphone apps and functions in the car.

So these days, in-dash infotainment systems are essentially extensions of your phone.

It’s a big change in approach for the car industry, and a hot topic of discussion on panels at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which wraps Sunday.

The first wave of in-dash systems were typically developed in-house by automakers and flopped because they were balky, confusing and relied on technology that quickly became outdated.

At the same time, smartphones were becoming ubiquitous. It took time for automakers to realize that integrating popular mobile operating systems into their vehicles made the most sense for them and their customers. Tech companies, meanwhile, saw an opportunity to further lock users into their brands and obtain valuable driver data.

“Apple and Google, and a lot of other technology companies, cannot ignore where consumers are truly mobile — and that’s in their cars,” said Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner. “Being able to extend their reach to customers when they’re in their vehicles is pretty important.”

Apple in March announced CarPlay, a system that gives iPhone users the ability to easily make calls, use Apple Maps, listen to music and access their messages by touch or voice commands.

Drivers connect their iPhones to their cars through a cable. They can then control CarPlay from their car’s built-in display or by pushing and holding a button on the steering wheel to activate Siri, the iPhone’s voice system. Certain third-party apps, such as Spotify and MLB at Bat, will also work within CarPlay.

A few months later, Google, which owns the rival Android operating system, responded with its own car connectivity solution. Android Auto features a simple interface, integrated steering wheel controls and new voice actions. Google said its system was designed to minimize distraction so drivers can stay focused.

The aim is to harness what’s found on your mobile device — directions, traffic, music streaming, voice controls, phone calls — and integrate those features into the driving experience.

Several major automakers have announced that they will support both CarPlay and Android Auto, including Audi, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Mazda and Volvo. Pricing, bundling and rollout for the systems are left up to the automakers.

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