Volvo's Polestar, the electric performance brand, is the latest native version of Android Auto in a new mobile web demo released Wednesday. The app-like experience, which can be viewed on smartphones or tablets, allows users to use an early version of the user interface, which will be introduced later this year for Polestar's second car, the aptly named Polestar 2.
To view them, users must click this link and choose "Add to Home" on their mobile browser's sharing sheet. After that, they can tap the new icon on their home screen to launch a website that simulates the Android Auto-powered interface. It's not fully functional, but it's enough to get a good feel of what it looks like when you knock on the screen in Polestar 2.
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What Polestar showed on Wednesday, however, looks very different. It's a completely new design that fits nicely into a tablet in portrait format, with large buttons and icons so the driver or passenger does not have to be so precise when typing and wiping.
There are four quadrants with persistent control bars at the top and bottom. The upper control bar allows users to access different parts of the user interface. There is one page for apps, another for user profiles and one for the functions of the vehicle (such as steering or regeneration brake settings). The lower control bar provides quick access to the climate and seat settings.
The demo shows what quick access to various Google apps would look like in these four quadrants, including Maps, Calendar, and Play Music. (These four quadrants are likely to be customizable, and they can even adapt on the fly, depending on what was last used, much like the left-hand rail of Apple's CarPlay user interface.)
There are some cheeky accents throughout the demo , All this also seems to indicate that Polestar wants to provide some of the fun of function functions that permeates Tesla's infotainment system. Tap the "Camera" section of the top control bar, and you'll unlock a Space Invader style game called Polestar Space Warp which is actually playable in the demo. Touch the Google Maps simulation. The navigation screen suddenly shows passing stars reminiscent of one of Tesla's most famous Easter eggs.
In other parts of the demo, things do not work or they're downright broken. Polestar says there will be "additional information about the interface" in the coming weeks. The company will also be reporting more about Polestar 2 itself. At the moment, we only know that it will offer about 300 miles on a full charge, and it will be somewhere north of $ 35,000, which is likely to compete with Tesla's Model 3.
The urge to turn Android car into a full-fledged operating system, which does not require a smartphone, started in 2014, but it was only last year we started the effort see into the light. In the past, car makers have used Android to build infotainment systems, but they had much more control over the top-to-bottom operations, which was sometimes to their detriment.
The demo of Polestar shows that Google still has a lot of freedom in designing the UI with the native Android car (especially compared to the much better known version Volvo had presented last year). However, as this is a more limited system, there are inherently more guidelines, which hopefully means a more consistent and reliable experience. With the added value of access to the App Store, native Android Auto could become a selling point for cars over the next few years.