Google’s linking of the IT and automotive industries

Expectations and concerns with the adoption of Google Maps and Android Auto

2018/12/05

Summary

Googleの売上高推移
Google sales revenue
(Source: Based on Alphabet Investor Relations materials)

When discussing Connected as it relates to the automotive industry, the presence of companies in the IT industry cannot be ignored. Conversely, it is also a fact that there are a number of threats and concerns facing IT companies entering the automotive industry business arena.

Of the many IT companies, Google is among the most aggressive in entering the automotive industry. Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford University in California, with Google growing into an IT powerhouse over the past 20 years. The company's sales in the third quarter of 2018 amounted to $33.74 billion (about JPY 3.4 trillion), with an operating margin of 25%.

 

While keeping in mind an understanding of Google’s business as part of the Alphabet organization, this report considers some of the approaches that Google has considered concerning the automotive industry, as well as some of the directions their strategic planning may take going forward.

In the sequel to this article, we will consider some of the initiatives in which Google and Waymo are engaged regarding autonomous driving.

 

Related reports:
Increased use of CASE technology on recent U.S. OEM models (Nov. 2018)
Implementation of 5G by Nissan, NTT DOCOMO, and AT&T (Nov. 2018)
CES 2018: Autonomous and HMI technology applications and examples (Jan. 2018)
GM, Google-Waymo to launch driverless cars for ride sharing in 2019 (Feb. 2018)



Google's involvement in the automotive industry

Google’s involvement in the automotive industry began with its self-driving car project initiated in conjunction with its Google Maps service in 2009.

 

Send-To-Car

The relationship between Google and the automotive industry began in March 2009 with Google’s "Send-To-Car" service, which allowed users to send Google Maps addresses and data from a home computer to a BMW’s car navigation system. In December of the same year, Google also began offering services to Audi for some of its models. In July 2010, Google expanded adoption of the services to several other automakers such as Ford USA and GM.

At that time, it was not offered as a smartphone service, but as a mechanism to access Google Maps from a PC’s browser, where after conducting a search of a destination, a user could then use the Google Maps feature to select a device to which to send the location information. Originally Google provided this service free of charge, but a number of automakers and navigation system suppliers discontinued using this service in 2013 when Google started charging a fee for the service. Currently, Audi, BMW, and Nissan continue to offer the Send-To-Car service.

 

Utilizing the Cloud

Google, who seemed to have alienated itself from automotive-related companies as a result of its decision to charge a fee for the Send-To-Car feature, started offering the Google Street View service on a dedicated data connection to the navigation system in the 2012 Audi A7. Subsequently, adoption of Google Street View was expanded to the Audi A3, A4 and other car models. Destination settings using the Google search function and features such as Google Earth also became available in cars.

The following is an introduction of some of the features of the Audi Connect service, using the system installed in the Audi A7 as an example. Audi offers the Audi Connect on-board, internet-connected infotainment system equipped with a communication feature called Audi MMI (Multi Media Interface, 3G). When you select Google Earth using the Audi navigation system settings screen, the navigation map display will change to that of Google Earth. By scrolling in the Google Earth view, when the vehicle enters an area for which Street View data is available, a yellow humanoid character called the Pegman control will be displayed. Street View then opens to take over the whole map window when the user selects a scale of 20 meters or less in this state.

Send-To-Car Audi A7 のGoogle Street View
Google Maps’ Send-To-Car screen in 2009
(Source: ITmedia)
Google Street View in the Audi A7
(Source: Created from various information sources)

 

In the Audi Connect system, Google Earth maps are embedded from the beginning in the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, but Street View is believed to acquire information that is communicated to the system when the display is activated. Afterwards, the data is recorded in a 2 GB internal storage memory installed in the IVI, where the stored information can be displayed until the system receives a wireless information update. In the system used for the current study, 3G communications was used, with Softbank as the cellular carrier.

The Street View image can be changed with the display by selecting up, down, left, or right (360° panoramic view).

MMI(3G)システム図とStreet View MMI(3G)システム図とStreet View
MMI (3G) System Diagram
(Source: Created from various information sources)
Street View display
(Source: Created from various information sources)


In this way, since about 2012, Google is starting to offer its own cloud services for automotive applications.



Smartphone compatible services

世界の携帯電話とスマートフォンの普及推移 予測
Forecast of the global proliferation of mobile phones and smart phones
(Source: Created based on white paper of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and various media sources)

As seen in the example above for Audi, in 2012 there were few vehicles equipped with communications devices, and 2012 also marked the start of the growth in the market for smart phones. As a result, there is now a greater demand to utilize smart phones and mobile phones in cars instead of the factory installed (OE) connected services equipment offered by automakers, which is limited to only some of the luxury models. Today, there are more smart phone compatible systems being offered that satisfy customer requirements in areas such as information, content, and entertainment, even though automakers are now offering vehicles that now include more features than before such as hands-free technology.

Smartphone compatible systems

Release timing Name of provider service Outline
2010 Jun. Terminal Mode A method of connecting mobile phones and information devices in cars, proposed by Nokia of Finland. Later Terminal Mode was renamed as Mirror Link and became a commercial trademark of the CCC (Car Connectivity Consortium).
2011 Nov. Mirror Link The CCC is a cross-industry collaboration established to develop global standards and solutions for smartphone and in-vehicle connectivity, and is linked to the activities of GENIVI, an automotive industry alliance promoting the adoption of open source IVI software and technology for the connected car. Mirror Link is the industry standard for car-smartphone connectivity, supporting both iOS and Android OS, but has been struggling since the advent of CarPlay and Android Auto.
2014 Mar. CarPlay CarPlay is an Apple standard that enables car connectivity using an iPhone. CarPlay interfaces to provide the audio and display connection to the car’s infotainment system only for Apple compatible apps.
Jun. Android Auto Android Auto is Google's standard for providing car connectivity for only Android smartphones that are compatible with Google’s Android OS. Only applications developed for Android Auto can interface with in-vehicle devices, such as the infotainment system.
2017 Jan. Smart Device Link (SDL) Toyota and Ford jointly announced developing the SDL technology to connect in-vehicle infotainment systems to smartphone applications. Originally started as an activity within the GENIVI alliance, Ford developed a standard called AppLink, which was proposed to the GENIVI alliance. But, subsequently the technology became a standard of the SDLC (Smart Device Link Consortium) that was officially established in November 2016, with participation by a number of OEMs.

 

Android Auto

Android Auto is a mobile app developed by Google, resulting from activities associated with the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) initiative which was launched by Google as the lead company. Automakers and technology companies developing devices and software compatible with Android Auto must be a member of the OAA. Today, globally, the OAA’s membership is comprised of 56 automakers, 16 component suppliers, and 16 technology companies. (For details, refer to https://www.openautoalliance.net/#members

There are two major objectives of the OAA’s activities:

  • To standardize protocols and develop an open platform that enables compatibility between Android OS smartphones and in-vehicle devices (Android Auto)
  • To provide a standardized and open OS to embed the Android OS in automotive applications (Android in the Car)

Android auto OAAの仕組み
OAA (Source: Official website of the Open Automotive Alliance) How OAA works (Source: Created from various information sources)


Since both of these architectures (Android Auto and Android in the Car) are realized using the Android Framework, services and applications developed to be compatible with Android Auto, which are smartphone compatible, are also compatible with vehicle-embedded Android systems (Android in the Car).

This is the “from user to vehicle” strategy that Google is targeting to achieve.



From user to vehicle (Android OS strategy)

To introduce its own services into the market, Google provides the basic OS free of charge, develops the necessary hardware, and then expands its business by introducing services and products with market appeal.

It was inevitable that Android, what with 80% of the smartphone market share, would be targeted for automotive applications.

Android プラットフォームの広がり
Proliferation of the Android platform (Source: Created from various information sources)

 

The strengths of the Android platform

The Android OS is a free open sourced platform, but for an application to be sold as an Android product it needs to be verified by Google. This requires an app pass all of the testing requirements of what Google calls its Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) before it can be sold. This commercial-grade test suite guarantees that applications developed for the Android OS are authenticated to ensure their compatibility to operate with any device running on an Android OS. (Some applications are compatible with the platform but may have features that do not operate correctly due to a product’s specifications.)

This compatibility requirement is one of the strengths of the Android platform.


With Android, even the software development environment can be downloaded basically free of charge, increasing its popularity with developers around the world. Since 2017 when Google opened up its Android OS platform by adding specifications for automotive applications, it is anticipated that Android will have a major impact on the automotive industry, which until now has been dominated by closed systems.


Even if Google decides the Android platform to be used for automotive applications, automakers will find themselves in the position of whether to adopt the platform. Some of the concerns and expectations behind the reluctance of automakers to adopt the Android OS platform are described in the table below. These "concerns" and "expectations" are not necessarily based on an accurate understanding of the technology, but can be interpreted as some of the concerns and expectations that automakers have regarding the IT giant called Google.

 

"Concerns" and "expectations" that automakers have against Android adoption

Concern Expectation
Information Google controls all information Able to utilize enormous amounts of information
Systems Google controls all systems Able to use systems with proven track records globally
Software development Google controls all development environments Easier to secure software developer resources
Product development Google controls all product specifications Able to separate software and hardware development
Services Google controls all services Easy to adopt smartphone services
Suppliers The scope of system responsibility becomes complex Hardware prices are expected to decrease
Business Ultimately, will automakers be paying more to Google? Services and software business opportunities are expected to increase

Source: Created from various information sources


There are a countless number of advantages in being able to embed vehicles with the services cultivated in the consumer market using the same platform.

Google's strategy already is to become a "platformer", providing the platform. Leveraging its success with smartphones, Google, which controls the information platform, is trying to become the provider of the information platform for automotive applications.

Beyond that, Google’s platform strategy for autonomous driving systems remains unclear.



Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance adopts Android OS for on-board systems

In the midst of increasing concerns and expectations of automakers regarding the Android operating system (OS), in September 2018 the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance announced that they had signed an agreement with Google to embed the Android OS in its next generation in-vehicle systems (announcing the adoption of the Android Auto service). The outline is as follows.

  • The world's leading automotive Alliance has signed a global multiyear agreement to partner with Google to equip Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi vehicles with intelligent infotainment systems
  • The Alliance will utilize Android, the world's most popular operating system, to offer customers with a new array of services including Google Maps, the Google Assistant, and the Google Play Store
  • These services will be combined with Alliance Intelligent Cloud based remote software upgrades and vehicle diagnostics

In its news release, Nissan announced that, "Drivers and passengers will be able to leverage Google and Android's capabilities to access an ecosystem that includes thousands of existing applications and an ever-expanding array of new apps”.

It can be said that the aim behind the announcement is, in essence, to build the "ecosystem".


Under the Alliance 2022 mid-term plan, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi is targeting increased sales of more than 14 million units a year by the end of 2022, equipping more vehicles with connectivity and cloud-based services. To realize this, it is obviously important that the three automakers adopt a common platform and shared services. However, this is difficult with a system that is dependent upon a single supplier of applications.

Therefore, by adopting the generic Android OS for automotive applications, even if there are multiple app suppliers, the aim of the initiative is to be able to provide standardize applications and services centering on the Android OS framework. Also, Google Map and Google Assistant have already gained market acceptance by users as easy-to-understand and convenient services. And, as these new services offer apps that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, the in-vehicle systems provided to date in a closed environment will more closely resemble that of the open systems found in devices such as smart phones.

It has also been announced that, in addition to the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, automakers such as Volvo and FCA are also promoting the development of vehicles for the mass market equipped with the Android Auto mobile app.



Hardware as a means of providing services

The image of Google as a service provider is dominant, but in reality the company occasionally brings product hardware to market. The first example of Google providing hardware is when they announced the introduction of the smartphone called the G-Phone. Apple launched and began selling the first gen iPhone on June 29, 2007 in North America. Soon after this, Google launched sales of its smartphone in December 2008.

The G-Phone is a smartphone equipped with the Android OS, and it is no exaggeration to say that Google's embedded OS strategy began with the introduction of the G-Phone. However, the G-Phone smartphone which initially sold in December 2008 was made by the Taiwan-based company HTC, and was not a Google in-house manufactured product. Since then, Google has been implementing a strategy of providing upgraded versions of hardware with added functionality when it releases the version upgrades of its Android OS. In 2012, Google added the Nexus series of tablet products installed with the Android OS. Since then, the market has seen companies one after the other introducing tablets using the Android OS. As a result, the number of smartphones running on the Android OS has dramatically increased since 2011, with the market share of Android OS smartphones growing to 86%.


Google’s strategy of providing hardware has been used as a means of gaining market appeal (acceptance) by demonstrating new functions and services with devices using the Android OS.

The Google Pixel 3 android phone, which was released in November 2018, has a variety of functions, notably among which is the Google Assistant service. Google Assistant is an AI assistance service that supports users familiar with the basics of the Google Home smart speaker such as one of its preprogrammed wake words "OK, Google". Even though Android smartphones previously had provided a voice-activated input function, the Pixel 3 was updated to provide assistance services such as Google Home. Furthermore, even without saying "OK, Google", it is now possible to activate Google Assistant simply by squeezing the body of the smartphone due to the "pressure gauge sensors" that are installed in the Pixel 3 (installed from Pixel 2).

By making hardware and services compatible, Google will likely continue to develop hardware for the market, in a sense, to convey the concept that "this is so convenient to use".

Android スマートフォン出荷推移 Googleのプラットフォーム戦略
Trends in the volumes and market share of Android smartphones
(Source: Created based on white paper of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and various media sources)
Google’s platform strategy
(Source: Created from various information sources)


Information obtained from smartphones may also be a risk to cars

A smartphone is a device that is always connected to a network. Google is acquiring enormous amounts of data with the 4 billion Android OS powered smartphones that have already been released worldwide, and by offering its Android OS for free (as previously mentioned, there are also paid network IP available, for specific functionality). Access to data was one of Google’s original aims.

Of course, this data is acquired in a format that does not include personal information. With regard to privacy policies, these are stipulated in the usage agreement accompanying each smartphone app.

 

Information that Google is acquiring: Location information from Google Maps, etc.

Google collects data in various ways, but this is not limited to Android OS devices. Of course, Google has sufficient access to 86% of the world’s information obtained from devices running on the Android OS, but, in addition, Google places a great deal of importance on gathering information using the company's largest service, Google Maps.

Google Maps is a service boasting 1 billion active users per month, with the information collected by Google Maps including information not only from Android smartphones, but from iPhone users and PC users as well. Since location information can be acquired from other various applications, and not only from the Google Maps service, even if a user turns off the permission to allow location information in the privacy settings of smartphone, it is impossible to completely avoid requests for location information tracking. (However, all applications have the feature of not allowing access to location information.)

It is important to note that Google has announced that it is not acquiring data for applications that users have specified they have not given permission to access.

In addition to Google Maps, Google is acquiring various information, including location information, using its services such as YouTube and Google Assistant (voice recognition). Including Google Maps, a user can verify location information being collected using Google services by visiting the website “myactivity.google.com”.

 

Benefits of information acquired by Google: Utilization for traffic information

Having information being acquired by Google may be considered objectionable, but it is by no means completely negative. There is no doubt that this information can also be used to benefit the end user.

Some of these benefits include, for example, traffic information using Google Maps. Using data obtained from smartphones, Google is providing accurate traffic information via the Google Maps service. Among them, the ETA (estimated time of arrival) information provided is more accurate than the information provided in some high-end car navigation systems, and it is also superior in terms of real time performance. A relatively simple configuration, it is based on the concept where cloud computing calculates the answer to the question “How a user is traveling and by what means?” based on the location information obtained from the smartphone and mathematical travel times. Changes in the moving speed represent the traffic flow itself, and based on this, the time required to reach the user’s destination is calculated.

In addition to such real-time information, Google also adopts traffic information algorithms to add statistical processing to the task by using historical accumulated data. As a result, as the number of smartphones acquiring data increases, the quality of the information also improves, and a more accurate ETA (estimated time of arrival) can be provided to the user. This sort of accurate ETA information makes it a very convenient service for users in their daily lives. Currently, this traffic information is used only for Google services.

 

Information that Google obtains from cars

As mentioned above, this means that Google acquires an environment where information can be collected from cars using the Android Auto app in the same way that it collects information from smartphones. (In actuality, there are cases where the information collected may be limited by legal agreements with an automaker.)

The lower right figure describes how information is shared in the Google services-compatible system of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, as mentioned earlier in this report. All Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi cars will be linked to Google services through the Alliance Intelligent Cloud. If Google can provide superior services for cars to automakers and its users, it may be possible for Google to be allowed to receive the information from the cars under certain conditions, information that would be beneficial to Google. (The Alliance Intelligent Cloud will provide next-generation infotainment systems with secure connectivity by offering a platform to integrate data management, infotainment systems and to facilitate over-the-air upgrades and remote diagnostics in Alliance member-company vehicles.)

スマートフォンからのデータを活用 Googleサービス連携システム
Utilization of data from smartphones
(Source: Created from various information sources)
Google services-compatible system of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance
(Source: Nissan press releases)


For example, if Google can obtain access to the various types of vehicle information flowing through the CAN (Controller Area Network) bus, it may be possible for Google to create new services that automakers have not yet imagined. Already, Google and Waymo are involved in the development of autonomous driving technologies using various sources of vehicle information and are most likely utilizing this information to develop a number of services related to autonomous driving.

Google, which has in essence acquired an entertainment platform with the in-vehicle infotainment system, is now targeting the acquisition of a platform for autonomous driving systems. The next report in this series will address the details of the strategies Google and Waymo are executing in the automotive field.


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Keywords
Google, Google Map, Google Assistant, Google Play Store, Android, Android OS, Android Auto, Android in the Car, Send-To-Car, Street View, G-Phone, Nexus, Pixel3, OAA, CTS, ETA, smart phone, connected, cloud, location information, voice recognition

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