Android Auto and CarPlay are both pretty great. You plug your smartphone into your car and you're greeted with a familiar set of icons. Why wade through a confusing interface, when two of the biggest tech companies in the world have made it easy for you to use the map and media apps you already know. But in the tech world, if you're not constantly improving, something else will appear and automakers, they're not sitting around. At Google I/O, the search and data-collection giant announced a modest, yet important update is coming to Android Auto.
The demo house Amazon built inside one of the towers at its Seattle headquarters to show off its Echo smart speakers has a new room, and an important one: a garage. Inside the garage is a concept electric car--or, more specifically, the immobile insides of such a vehicle--that Amazon uses to show automakers the full spectrum of things its Alexa Auto software platform can do. That includes in-car versions of typical Alexa tasks such as audio streaming, messaging, voice calls, and reminders. And because it's a car, Alexa can also do things like roll the windows up and down and control the cabin temperature, all at the verbal request of the driver. Amazon has been working hard on Alexa Auto for the past two years.
Inching down the freeway, a driver realizes she's forgotten her weekend plans and asks her digital copilot to check her calendar. Within seconds, a voice emanates from the car's speakers telling the driver that she has RSVP'd to a friend's birthday party and then suggesting a gift--a Detroit Lions jersey. The entire process ends less than two minutes after the driver asks the digital assistant to order the jersey. Meanwhile, the dialogue inside the car is sent to a distant data center, ready to be mined for ads pitching an NFL game, even though the driver dislikes football. Once clunky and buggy, voice-recognition technology is improving and quickly spreading to the dashboard, allowing drivers to issue a wider range of commands using natural speech.