Android Auto takes on Apple CarPlay: Here's everything you need to know

Google isn't going to let Apple steal your attention, not even for one second. So it has just outlined a new plan of attack that aims to keep you tied to Android, even from behind the wheel.

Patrick Brady, the Director of Engineering at Android, announced at Google I/O on 25 June that Android is coming to vehicles. Although the company announced the Open Automotive Alliance earlier this year, it has only now revealed that much more car-related things are in the works. In fact, it has dreamed up a new platform specifically for automobiles, called Android Auto.

"Even though it is unsafe and in many places illegal, people use their phones while driving ... there's gotta be another way," said Brady. "We've redesigned the Android platform for automotive, making it easier and safer to use the apps and services drivers want in the car. We looked at what people do with their phones in the car today."

Android Auto: How it works

According to Google, Android Auto will primarily tackle navigation, communication, and music, because those are the things people usually use most when driving. Android Auto will put them front and center, meaning you won't have to hunt through a grid of apps and icons whenever in a vehicle. The platform is also contextually aware, so it'll serve up useful information when you need it.

"And most importantly, Android Auto is completely voice-enabled, so you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road," Brady said, adding that he wished he could drive a car on stage for demonstration but couldn't for safety reasons. Google is known for doing such lavish demonstrations, like when it had skydivers fly into an I/O event in 2012 for Glass.

Still, there was a resting demo car available for the keynote. Google showed how you could simply plug your Android phone into a vehicle, and then Android Auto would cast everything to your vehicle's infotainment screen. At that point, you could put your phone down and use familiar car controls, such as toggles on the steering wheel, to control your phone.

Android Auto: Features

The first thing you'll see on your car's dashboard display is the Overview Screen. It contains contextually-relevant destinations, reminders, contacts, and music - all pulled from Google Now and other apps. Google said the apps that appear are actually the same apps running on your phone, so the company recommended you regularly update your apps for a smooth and fast experience.

If you don't want to use car controls or voice commands with Android Auto, the Overview Screen and specific apps like Google Play Music also feature simple, glanceable controls: "One tap, and he's navigating or listening to his favourite road trip mix," Brady demonstrated. "Keeping his hands on the wheel. Fantastic."

Speaking of navigation, Google Maps in Android Auto has all the same popular features you love. Examples include live traffic and turn-by-turn navigation. But it's even more powerful than Google Maps for smartphones, because it's completely voice enabled. Instructions are spoken and display on your car's dashboard screen.

Messaging is also voice-enabled, and new messages show up as heads-up notifications on your car's dashboard screen. Check out the promo video above for more information on the new features within Android Auto.

Android Auto: Release date

Brady said the "Android Auto experience" will be available to all users with the public "L release" of Android, later this year. Earlier in the keynote, Google announced the next version of Android would launch in autumn.

Google also announced an Android Auto SDK for developers would be available, enabling them to make specific apps just for the car.

Android Auto: Partners

Google announced that over 40 partners have joined the Open Automotive Alliance. Those names include Audi, Bentley, Chevrolet, Jeep, Honda, Ford, etc - basically every major car manufacturer, as well as major accessory manufacturers, so expect Android Auto head units too.

Over 25 car brands have signed up to offer Android Auto, and the first vehicles with support will roll off out later this year.