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Android Automotive OS App Development Insights

While mobile apps are super convenient almost anywhere, they bring more risks than benefits when a user is at the wheel. That's why automotive manufacturers prefer applications based on the latest Android Automotive OS designed specifically for infotainment systems. When properly developed, such apps are intuitive, safe, and tailored to drivers' needs. Most importantly, they don't distract users while providing them with the necessary smart features on the road.

Would you like to design Android Automotive apps for your infotainment platform to bring additional features into your vehicles?

We know how. Lemberg Solutions engineers have mastered Automotive Android app development and share some insights below.

What is Android Automotive OS

Android Automotive OS is a full-stack, open-source platform that operates directly on in-vehicle hardware. It runs both pre-installed Android applications (Google Automotive Services or GAS) and optional third-party apps our mobile development team can help with. While GAS include Maps, Assistant, Play Store, and other standard Google services, external apps provide additional features.

Note that the final look of an AAOS app will vary depending on the vehicle where it runs. Every original equipment manufacturer has a unique infotainment system with its screen size, design, and layout.

Android Automotive Apps - Lemberg Solutions

Where Android Automotive OS is Used

Despite being launched in 2017, Android Automotive OS (AAOS) has already gained a considerable market share. Android Automotive OS solutions take 15% of the automotive operating system market and keep growing. Manufacturers have integrated them into dozens of models and continue to adopt AAOS for many new products.
In particular, you can find Android Automotive OS and applications in:

  • Polestar 2, 3, 4, and 5 use Android Automotive capabilities in their cars. With AAOS and Google Maps integration, Polestar 2 minimizes the time drivers are diverted from the road and brings other benefits.
  • Volvo XC40 Recharge was the first model to adopt Android Automotive. Now all MY23 models have such an infotainment system.
  • Renault's Megane E-Tech Electric and Austral SUV use the OpenR Link infotainment system based on Android Automotive.

Apart from the listed automotive manufacturers and models, automotive apps Android solutions are available in GMC Hummer EV, GMC Sierra, GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Silverado EV, Chevrolet Equinox EV, and 2024+ Cadillac XT4, among others. And given the fast AAOS growth, we will likely see AAOS in more vehicles soon.

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6 Types of Android Automotive Apps

Android Automotive apps fall into six broad categories, covering the main user needs of drivers and passengers. You can design an app to cast music, read text-to-speech messages, navigate, and complete other actions listed below.

App typeFunctionality
MediaMedia applications enable users to replay music, audiobooks, radio, and other audio in a vehicle.
MessagingMessaging applications enable users to check messages with text-to-speech, reply with voice, and receive incoming notifications.
NavigationNavigation applications provide users with driving instructions to help them get to the desired destination.
Point of Interest (POI)POI applications enable users to find points of interest, like parking or charging spots nearby, and navigate to them. Users can control POI apps with voice using Google Assistant App actions.
Internet of Things (IoT)IoT applications enable users to manage connected devices right from their cars. A person can close their garage, turn on their home camera, etc.
Video (use during parkingVideo applications stream videos when users are parked. They are the least popular out of these categories so far.

Why manufacturers may need custom Android Automotive apps

Many manufacturers tailor Android Automotive OS capabilities to the unique needs of vehicles. They use the foundation provided by Google and build custom apps on top of it for several reasons:

  • Optimization of expenses. Since using the full pack of Android Automotive services may be expensive, many manufacturers prefer to utilize AAOS as a basis and get only its essential services. For other infotainment solutions, they hire mobile app developers with automotive expertise and create tailored apps.
  • Additional functionality. When automotive manufacturers want to offer a non-standard feature besides the core AAOS functionality, they need a custom app. This app satisfies the needs of a specific target audience, like remote smart home tracking or advanced navigation. 
  • Competitive edge. As in-vehicle technology becomes more sophisticated, smart features gain more importance. Therefore, brands that want to attract potential customers and stay competitive must offer custom apps that provide the functionality others don't have.

If you want to start an Android Automotive app development project but need business analysis or engineering assistance, we can help. Lemberg Solutions hires AAOS engineers and automotive software developers that can create a solution for any OEM or Tier 1 supplier's need.

Tips on custom Android Automotive app development, testing, and design

Since Android Automotive apps are created for vehicles, their operation and final look must follow many strict requirements. The main point of these limitations is to make an app convenient and avoid distracting users with too many actions. Therefore, while developing an app for your infotainment system, you should collaborate with engineers that have relevant experience and follow the best practices. Here are some of the approaches our team uses:

Android Automotive App Tips - Lemberg Solutions

Below our developers share more details on implementing each of these tips. Learn how to develop Android Automotive apps according to best industry practices.

Start with the UI/UX part

Due to multiple design requirements imposed by Google for AAOS apps, you should always start development with UI/UX planning. Consider limitations on user workflows, pagination, messaging, and other design nuances. Otherwise, you risk developing an app that will breach Google's rules. Even if such an app runs on in-vehicle systems, it will have poorer performance and user experience than apps that comply with Android Automotive guidelines.

Always mind Android standards

Since AAOS is developed by Google, we always create apps that follow Android and Google Play standards, and so should you. It ensures our customers face no unexpected obstacles when releasing and publishing apps in app stores. Even when a customer partially uses AAOS and GAS services, our mobile development team designs a custom end product to comply with all of Google's requirements.
Besides, you should remember that an AAOS app you develop must fall into the six types of app categories listed above. You will have to indicate a specific app category to publish the app.

Add no more than 5 steps in task flows

The basic rule of Automotive Android app development is that a task flow mustn't take more than five actions. Otherwise, it would distract users and lead to risky situations on the road. A new task is when a user:

  • Goes to the app's landing template
  • Makes an action that opens another app
  • Goes to the navigation template (for navigation apps)

That's why our mobile development team carefully plans and tests every navigation flow to make it as short as possible. We aim to create user flows that do not exceed 3 steps. According to Android for Cars App Library design guidelines, 4 steps are recommended for Flows involving purchases.

Example of proper task flow

Android Automotive App Task Flow - Lemberg Solutions

Choose the right template for in-app user communications

Android Automotive OS offers messaging templates for user communications, but you must implement them correctly. Decide which element you need to add and choose the template that matches the chosen type. AAOS templates have customizable attributes like font size, background, or color, software engineers can modify based on their needs.

Android shares additional recommendations on when which message type is appropriate. Here are the main takeaways on when to display different types of communications:

Message: for an icon or image with a short message and up to 4 optional actions

  • Long message: for scrollable messages with legal or destination details users will read while parked
  • Toasts: for information about an ongoing action
  • Navigation alerts: for short messages and actions displayed without blocking the navigation route.
  • Voice: for voice commands when the user is busy
  • Notifications: for heads-up notifications with critical updates and up to two actions

Implement user permissions

Transparent data collection and processing rules relate to Android Automotive apps as well. Therefore, when an app accesses a vehicle's components, like a camera or microphone, it must request the user's permission. Ideally, the user must give permission before starting the car to avoid being distracted.

Tap into best security practices from Android

Native Android and AAOS apps have much in common, so the recommended security practices largely overlap. Hence, you can follow Android documentation guidelines to make an app more secure. Here are the main Android security approaches we use in our projects:

  • Secure communication between apps with signature-based permissions, app chooser, and closed access to app's content providers
  • Request credentials before showing sensitive information
  • Implement network security measures, like using TLS traffic, adding a network security configuration, and setting up a trust manager.

Use emulators or physical devices for testing

You must check how the app works on Android Emulator and/or custom emulators used by OEM at the development stage. Emulators simulate various devices and Android API levels and can help you check almost anything, from incoming calls to hardware sensors' operation. Even though testing on a physical device is always better, emulators can be a great substitute if you cannot access a vehicle.

Our expertise in Automotive Android app development

Lemberg Solutions hires proficient mobile engineers who have created different AAOS apps using Android Studio, Android Emulator, Kotlin, and Java. We design a point-of-interest, navigation, media, IoT, and messaging app or combine several kinds of features in one solution. You can ask us to create a separate AAOS app from scratch or a companion app for a car infotainment system.
Learn more about our Android Automotive app development services and contact us to discuss your project.

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