New Volvos will have Google Maps, apps, and Assistant — even if you don't have an Android phone

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Google’s previously announced integration with Volvo cars is finally solidifying. Ahead of this week’s I/O developer conference, the company announced today that it will add Google Maps, Assistant, and Google Play Store to the Sensus infotainment system in Volvo’s next-generation cars over the next few years. Volvo announced at last year’s conference that it was working with Google on building an Android-powered infotainment system, but now we know it will soon be possible for owners to tap into some of the most popular Android Auto features without requiring an Android phone.

It’s an important salvo in the ongoing war for control over the main screen in your car. And it continues the work that Google started last year when it announced at I/O that Volvo and Audi would roll out branded infotainment systems built on Android Nougat 7.0. Now, before long, people will be able to hop into a new Volvo car and have access to some of the most-used functions you’d expect to find in “normal” Android Auto.

This adds more choice for customers when it comes to tailoring their in-car experience. But it’ll still being done in such a way that Volvo can style the overall infotainment experience to its liking, leaving the carmaker with some control. Given the occasional struggles some carmakers encounter when it comes to operating more advanced, modern infotainment systems, this is probably the best outcome these companies can hope for outside ceding full control to Google and Apple.

On top of the Volvo news, Google is announcing ahead of this week’s conference that Android Auto proper is getting a bit of a visual refresh that should also make the whole system a bit smarter. Android Auto will soon support group messaging, as well as Rich Communication Service, or RCS, which is the foundation that Google is using for its next take on the ultimate messaging app. The company’s also improving integration with some third-party apps. For example, media apps like Spotify can now make search results available to the top level of Android Auto, which should offer a more diverse and dynamic set of results when, say, you look up an artist or track with Google Assistant.

Lastly, Google’s making new templates available to developers that should make it easier for them to surface more immediately actionable information when apps are opened in Android Auto. In other words, Google thinks it’s found a way to cut down on the number of taps required inside Android Auto. In a world where distracted driving accidents are on the rise, that’s a welcome idea.

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