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As Rival Carmakers Focus on Homegrown Entertainment Systems, Honda Bets Big on Android

Honda has decided Android offers the right combination of existing apps and flexibility to power its in-car navigation and entertainment systems.


While many automakers see building their own in-car entertainment systems as a strategic imperative, Honda is taking a different approach.

The Japanese carmaker is basing its newest navigation and entertainment systems on Android, starting with its new 2016 Pilot sport-utility vehicle.

“I don’t think Honda wants to differentiate on Pandora,” says Nick Sugimoto, a senior program director in Honda’s Silicon Valley lab. Honda isn’t the expert in building computers and most of the apps that a consumer wants to run in the car already exist for Android.

That’s not to say that Honda doesn’t want to play a role. Sugimoto says the company can add value by making sure the apps that run on its system are safe for use in the car and through its custom user interface.

“Even Android devices look pretty different from different manufacturers,” Sugimoto said. “You probably can’t tell just by looking it is running Android.”

Even still, Honda is something of an anomaly. Most of its rivals prefer an entirely homegrown approach. Although building their own systems is hard work and requires some arm-pulling to attract developers, many car manufacturers have seen such investment as critical to avoid ceding a big chunk of a car’s value to Apple or Google.

“At the end of the day we don’t want to end up as the handset business,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told Re/code earlier this month.

Like other car makers, Honda is a supporting Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay, but those systems work as a secondary interface on top of a carmaker’s entertainment system for those who want to bring in their own smartphone and use its capabilities instead. Honda was among the first to join Google’s Open Automotive Alliance in January 2014.

Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay debuted a few months later, and roughly 30 carmakers have committed to both. Only a few compatible systems have made it onto the road, though many models supporting CarPlay and Android Auto are in the works.

Both Google and Apple, though, appear to have broader ambitions. Apple is reportedly interested in building its own cars in a few years’ time, while Google is said to be interested in seeing Android as a primary interface within the car.

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