Android Auto: Are cars the next front in the smartphone wars?

Android Auto rolled out to an additional 18 international countries on Monday, as Android tries to catch up with Apple's CarPlay. 

Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters/File
A 3D-printed Android logo stands in front of displayed cyber code, Mar. 22, 2016. Android Auto is expanding to more countries.

Android Auto is reaching out to a wider international market.

Android tweeted on Monday that their car service is pushing into 18 more countries. Android Auto, an Android-based operating system and app for compatible cars, allows users to access some of their apps from a car’s dashboard screen.

Why? Because cars have emerged as the latest front in the smartphone wars.

It’s no secret cars are getting smarter – from the newly released Tesla Model 3, which like its predecessors will come equipped with a monitor, to the prototype self-driving cars being developed by Google, Apple, and a host of other startups and established car companies. And as smart-cars rise, smartphone companies have been eager to partner with them.

“People expect their car’s computing power to match its horsepower,” said Peggy Johnson, an executive vice president at Microsoft, in January.

Microsoft has rolled out a range of car-oriented technologies and partnerships, including designs to incorporate Microsoft Band in Volvos or stream Windows from a phone to a car dashboard via "Windows 10 Continuum."

You can already chat with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant available on Windows phones, in some bluetooth-enabled cars.

Apple launched its own iOS-based car operating system with CarPlay in 2014. Like Android Auto, CarPlay uses car radios or monitors to access iOS apps. It is compatible (or working toward compatibility) with most major car companies and is currently available in 33 different countries.

With its rivals already entrenched in the automotive industry, it’s no surprise Android is trying to get its share of the market.

How does Android Auto work?

To use Android Auto, you will need an Android phone running 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher OS and a compatible car, including many new models of Volvo, Volkswagen, Pioneer, Hyundai, and Chevrolet among others.

After downloading the Android Auto app and connecting the phone with the compatible car, your dashboard screen will display an overview of the phone, including any messages, calls, or directions that pop up.

You can also access apps like Google maps and Google Play Music, and navigate between the apps via touch-screen monitors, nobs, or voice control.

The new 18-country expansion brings Android Auto into a total of 28 countries, still behind Apple’s CarPlay with 33 countries.

It appears Android isn't rushing to make up lost time but instead is envisioning future investments and development for car-smartphone integration.

"Android developers will soon be able to create entirely new experiences for the car," said Patrick Brady, Android's director of engineering. 

The new countries where Android Auto is available are Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The service also rolled out to the American territory of Puerto Rico.

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