Audi shows integrated Android infotainment system at Google I/O

Audi Q8 Sport concept

Hot on the heels of Volvo’s announcement of a new Android-based infotainment system, Audi showed its own version of Android integration at Google I/O.

The German automaker’s Q8 Sport concept (a derivation of a recent Audi SUV concept) has Android built into its infotainment system. Like the Volvo system, it represents much more extensive integration than Android Auto, which merely adds a layer of Android-specific features on top of automaker-developed infotainment operating systems.

The concept Audi system includes Spotify, Google Play Music, and Google Assistant, all of which are accessible through the main central touchscreen display, known as Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit.” The latter replaces the traditional gauge cluster with a second digital display that can be reconfigured to show everything from a speedometer to navigation maps. It’s already available on several Audi models.

Audi says this is the first time these branded services have been integrated with its own infotainment system, known as MMI. The concept system also features Google Maps, although Audi continues to rely on the map database from Here, the former Nokia division it owns jointly with BMW and Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Smart.

Audi’s experimentation with Android is more than just a potential perk for Google acolytes. Thanks to the popularity of smartphones and their attendant apps, infotainment is viewed as a major potential market by both automakers and tech companies. So far, automakers have preferred to develop infotainment systems on their own. But the people running those automakers know their customers really like the branded services tech companies provide.

“New apps can quickly find their way into the cars as additional connected services, for example, if they fulfill the requirements of Google and Audi. The foundation for this is the Android platform,” an Audi press release said. Customers will get broader app availability and speedier updates, the automaker said.

Audi did not discuss a production timeline for its Android-based infotainment system, but the Q8 nameplate from its Google I/O demonstration platform will be applied to a new SUV, expected to debut next year as a 2019 model.