If you're in the market for a new Audi tablet, you might also be in the market for a new tablet. Audi's already announced their participation in the new Open Automotive Alliance with Google, and it was widely anticipated that they'd be announcing Android in the car at CES 2014. Well, they did, but not in the way you might have expected: it's a tablet.
The new 10.2-inch Mobile Audi Smart Display tablet is Audi's latest foray into electronics. Powered by a Tegra 4 chip, the Mobile Audi Smart Display runs Android underneath, but features a very heavily skinned launcher that is optimized for in car use. For passengers, not drivers. Audi's rolling out a new version of their rotary dial + touchpad MMI interface for drivers that integrates multitouch gestures and natural language voice controls (ala Google Now and Siri) for the drivers.
But back to the tablet. Shown off in video form at Audi's press conference this morning, the Smart Display is designed to work hand-in-hand with Audi vehicles, using in-car Wi-Fi and Audi's new LTE partnership with AT&T. It has a 10.2-inch "full HD" (hopefully that means 1080x1920) display housed in a brushed-aluminum case. Being that it's designed to be able to stay in your car (but can venture out if you so desire), the Smart Display is also designed to be durable and can survive the harsh temperatures that can be encountered in a car, especially one that's been left out in the cold or in the blistering sun. Audi quotes that the Smart Display can withstand temperatures between -40°C/F and 80°C/176°F.
That durability comes at a price, though, as the Smart Display appears to be slightly chunky. It has relatively thick bezels and looked somewhat thick front-to-back as well. Considering it's made for in-car use where you'll want a thicker bezel to grip in spirited driving (which Audi clearly wants to encourage).
The Smart Display does more than just utilize the car's hotspot, though. It's integrated with the car's infotainment system and can be used to control the audio system, navigation, and climate controls. Additionally, it can play back audio from the tablet over the car's speaker system.
Though Audi wasn't ready to show off the complete software that powers the Smart Display, Audi AG Head of Development Electrics/Electronics Ricky Hudi did at least state that it will run Android apps and include access to the Google Play Store. So while the tablet runs a heavily-customized interface, or at least has a dedicated app for in-car use, it also has accessible Android underneath. It's less like a Kindle and more like something from Samsung.
Google's been a long-time partner with Audi, with Google Maps and Google Earth providing navigation functions in Audi cars since 2004, and more recently adding voice point of interest search. Audi's still continuing their partnership with Apple, so complete iOS-integration will continue on in Audi vehicles.
What version of Android the Mobile Audi Smart Display runs, when it will become available, and how much Audi buyers will have to pay for the privilege of using a customized Android tablet in their car is still unknown at this point, but knowing Audi it certainly won't be cheap.
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm (the old one), and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.