By on May 12, 2010

The Wall Street Journal [sub] reports that GM and Google are discussing new ways to connect the internet giant’s Android mobile phone operating system with GM’s Onstar system. OnStar’s president Chris Preuss has hinted that “big news” is coming next week, spurring speculation about the features that a partnership with Google could yield for Onstar. If such a plan is in the works, GM’s timing is quite good. Ford had previously enjoyed an exclusive license to Microsoft’s technology which underpins its Sync system, but that agreement recently expired, prompting deals between Microsoft and automakers like Fiat and-Hyundai-Kia. By becoming the first US-market OEM to partner with Google, GM could enjoy an advantage in Detroit’s burgeoning technology wars… at least until distracted driving becomes a capital crime.

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20 Comments on “Wild Ass Rumor Of The Day: GM And Google Discussing Onstar-Android Tie-Up...”

  • avatar

    Clicking on this car might endanger your computer.

  • avatar

    “…at least until distracted driving becomes a capital crime.”

    It already should be if you kill somebody.

  • avatar

    While I’m sure a lot of people will find this convenient, that commercial where the police disable an OnStar-equipped car scares me. Between GM and Google I’d feel like there’d be no privacy in my car. Be wrongly accused (or even just suspected) of something and *poof*: No getaway for *YOU*!

    Not that I’m a criminal or anything, but it’s the principal of the thing. I want this like I want an Orwellian 2-way telescreen

  • avatar

    I would have expected a google/Ford relationship way before GM. Sounds like google is kissing up to Government Motors to pave the way for settling some up coming anti-trust issues.


  • avatar

    I’ve got a copy of the prototype/demo Android Onstar phone App for the Volt. It looks good. They actually did a pretty good job with it. It’s basically a remote control. I’m guessing that we might see an Android based Onstar connected tablet built into the car as well as the phone app.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    I wish Google the same luck it had with the Nexus One.

    • 0 avatar

      Even though the N1 was not a well thought out marketing plan by Google, the Android OS in various maker’s phones is doing pretty well. If I traveled to Europe more, I’d buy one and a PAYG SIM for the country I’m in (I do that now with an old Palm Treo 680.)

      I have a Sprint HTC Hero and really like the operation of the Android OS. I need to be on CDMA because GSM doesn’t work where I live (in the boonies of NH.)

  • avatar

    OnStar’s biggest strengths are also its biggest weaknesses. The emergency functions can work without a cell-phone connected, and you do get to talk to a real live person, but because of the heavy duty satellite hardware needed and the need to pay real live people to man the phones the system is a lot more expensive when it comes to service charges than Sync is.

    Add to that that in the past (and maybe now still, I am not sure on the current offerings) that you had to pay a (pretty hefty) service charge just to use the hands free phone function (something that has been 100% free with Sync from day 1) you have a recipe for some pretty lopsided price shopping.

    FoMoCo vehicles have also, for the most part, had a keypad on the door where you can just type in a five digit code to unlock the car if you accidentally lock your keys inside, so that is another area where paying for OnStar hasn’t made sense.

    Sync is just the most polished communication integration platform on the market at the moment. I won’t say that Google can’t do better, I certainly prefer google to bing for my search needs, but the iPhone is still worlds better than the Droid platform when it comes to user-friendliness on a smart phone (and both of them, as well as Palm have it all over Windows Mobile) so I guess the lesson is that no company really has a strangehold on internet enabled and mobile device technology.

    It will be interesting to see where this all goes, but in the meantime I would love to see Sync become available in aftermarket headunits, as it has been a bitch and a half to find one that supports iPhone USB connectivity via front USB port, Bluetooth with voice control, and A2BT Bluetooth audio.

    • 0 avatar

      but because of the heavy duty satellite hardware needed

      WTF? OnStar does not communicate using satellites.. OnStar talks over Verizon’s CDMA network (just like my blackberry)

      Infact if your car happens to be in a part of North America that is without CDMA coverage… OnStar is off line.

    • 0 avatar

      Satellites talk to cars (e.g. Sirius). Cars don’t talk to satellites (too much power and big directional antenna required).


    • 0 avatar

      @twotone Depending on the frequency and the “look” the satellite has on you, you don’t need very much power to uplink to a sat.

      and CamaroKid is correct – OnStar transmits through the CDMA network, A few years ago when Verizon shut down analog comms, that disabled all the first generation OnStar systems, which were analog-only. The later ones were analog/digital and digital only. The nice thing about the analog ones were they had larger transmitters and so could hit a tower farther if you were in a dead zone.

    • 0 avatar

      So OnStar is CDMA based, I didn’t know that. Having never owned a vehicle that had it, somehow I got it into my head from some GM marketing something or other that it worked like those Iridium Satellite cell phones, and I suppose I just never talked to someone who knew better to dispel that.

    • 0 avatar

      The Google Android Platform is already there and I don’t see much work needed on their end. Most of the work that needs to be done would be on the part of GM or whoever they have writing their Android apps to implement the features they want.

      I have the prototype of the “Onstar Mobile Experience” app for Android and it looks pretty good, so I can confirm they are at least playing around with the platform. Go to for your very own copy.

      Google’s part is pretty much done. It’s up to GM and/or other partners to develop the end user apps for the car. I work with all of the phone/embedded systems platforms and my favorite is Android. There’s a lot that can be done with the platform and it’s not limited to phone or tablet applications.

      The Android platform due to it’s openness is a much friendlier platform for an automotive systems developer to work with than apple. The biggest advantage is that you can pick and choose the hardware and vendor you want to run on. You can’t do that with apple.

      Apple’s UI isn’t better than Android – at least since 2.1. There are myths out there, for example that Android doesn’t support multi-touch, but they aren’t true. Anyway, GM and anyone else developing on the Android platform has complete freedom to do whatever they want for a user interface – unlike apple. If you don’t like the interface you can change it.

      There are also some interesting possibilities with Google. The end result could be an advertising supported free version of Onstar. It could be a huge revenue generator and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen. Think of the audio system of the car and the dash as advertising space just waiting to be sold. Maybe we’ll even see advertising subsidized cars.

    • 0 avatar

      mcs –

      I don’t know of Apple doing any development for car based platforms. Sync is Microsoft, and while Microsoft does own a chunk of Apple, and Sync does play nice with Apple peripherals, I think that has more to do with the Apple devices being the most popular choice when it comes to MP3 players and the like. The term iPod has become synonymous with ‘MP3 Player’ almost to the point of Kleenex for tissue or Xerox for a copy machine.

      I haven’t had a chance to play with an android based phone for a long period of time yet, but the ones I have messed around with a bit seem very capable, and seem to strike a nice balance between fine control over user settings and overall ease of use. At the moment I love my iPhone, it is by far the best phone I’ve ever owned (and having used multiple smartphones based on Palm, Windows Mobile, and Symbian I’ve had some experience). That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t try out an android device, especially if, when it comes time to upgrade next year, there is an android based device that works on AT&T’s network that has as smooth a web and e-mail interface as the iPhone, as many free apps, and (this will be the major thing that makes me jump ship) supports Flash.

  • avatar

    Whatever happened to Don’t Be Evil? Right.

  • avatar

    And people wonder why I won’t drive a car made past about 1995…

    Orwell was right, just a bit off on the date.

  • avatar

    I was hoping that Android would help usher in a new era of openness in automotive (and other) electronics. If they’ve got any kind of exclusivity going with OnStar, that won’t advance openness.

  • avatar
    ton12 (of GM)

    To answer the technical connection questions…
    An OnStar automobile determines its coordinates (location) from satellite triangulation the same way a portable GPS does. However, the automobile connects to the OnStar system through cell phone networks. OnStar knows the location of a car because the car phone sends the coordinates through the cell phone connection. Nothing is uploaded back up to a satellite.

  • avatar

    This would be a good move for GM if they can get a really good interface similar to Sync and MyFord Touch. I am willing to be other companies will be doing the same thing as well soon, but the name is good for marketing.

    People know what Sync is. They may not understand what all it does, and that other companies over very similar systems, but the branding makes people more interested in it.

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