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Third-party ROMs for Android Auto are coming

One of the features to Android Auto is the promise of a semi-walled garden. Google controls what apps work in Android Auto, and what can be shown on the screen as to create the safest possible ecosystem in which phone and car can interact. As we've seen exploring all of the apps available for Android Auto, this isn't a perfect system. On top of the occasional usability bug, Android users who have grown accustomed to the open and modular nature of the OS find the head unit display to be more than a little limiting.

A way around this was always going to happen, and now it has. Pioneer AVIC units have had their security stripped and the ability to install modded versions of Android Auto onto these aftermarket head units.

On a high level, this is a huge win for consumers who want to do more than the manufacturer intended with their hardware.

The AVIC Development Mod alters the behavior of the SD Card in the head unit, making it possible for anything compatible to boot instead of the factory software. This not only means Android Auto can be expanded with things like themes and alternate user interfaces — it also opens the door to install Android Auto on Pioneer AVIC hardware that didn't initially come with it installed. It also means access to features like Wifi, which might have been disabled by Pioneer in your unit for whatever reason, potentially could become available to you at some point in the future. As is often the case with these sorts of things, it's up to the modding community to sink its teeth into this and see what is possible now that all the locked doors have been removed.

On a high level, this is a huge win for consumers who want to do more with their hardware than what the manufacturer originally intended. The potential to add Android Auto alone to other devices is awesome, especially if it ends up working smoothly. Obviously this also opens up a significant avenue of risk, especially when you consider the unstable history of third-party ROMs that have been cobbled together without access to the source code. The potential for something to go wrong leading to a distracted driver performing triage while doing 65 mph on the highway is shadowed only by the potential for a less-than-reputable installer to offer you a killer deal on what is now dangerously insecure and potentially fully exploited aftermarket gear.

Android Auto

There's no reason to be concerned about something like the recent Jeep hijacking demo happening with these Pioneer units, but some of these aftermarket kits can be connected to quite a bit more than the speakers. In very much the same way that a rooted Android phone can be exploited, this in-car system is now highly vulnerable. If you're installing something like this by yourself, there's probably not a ton to worry about. If you're having someone else do it for you, anything could happen. You can head to the AVIC411 forums for details, and if you're feeling brave there's a step by step for trying things out for yourself.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

53 Comments
  • It was a huge mistake for Alphabet to lock down AA like they did. This changes the value proposition, and makes a $500+ unit interesting again.
  • google.
  • Your reply makes your username ironic...
  • It is google, not alphabet
  • Absolutely agreed. The self-imposed safety limitations are a deal killer for me. A passenger can't even manually control the damned thing while the car is moving, right? Doesn't it have to be done by voice?
  • And this is why Normals and Stupid People shouldn't have smartphones or drive. Galaxy Note 4 {Sprint Lollipop}
    Galaxy S III {FreedomPop 4.3}
    LG G2 {Sprint 4.4.2}
  • Does that mean you're giving up your smartphone?
  • He walked right onto that one Posted From my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface pro 3
  • Sometimes a joke is so obvious that you should just leave it unsaid, man. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Nope. I have a tendency to keep things your mom gives me. (Burn) Sprint GS3 on FreedomPop. Waiting patiently for the Moto X "P.E." so I can still pay $19.99 for unlimited everything on this Sprint MVNO.
  • No, the car.
  • "YOU WOULDN'T ROOT A CAR" Yes, I would.
  • I'm waiting for the day that Google's self-driving cars get rooted. "Dude, there's this AWESOME ROM for your car, it's on XDA.....it's a Beta, so don't expect everything to work, but it's pretty much almost 95% there. I mean, sometimes the brakes lock up randomly and/or don't work, and the headlights are a bit of a 50/50. Oh, and don't even ask about ETAs for updates, that's rude."
  • XDA is an incredible resource, but the community is full of the biggest d-bags I've ever seen. Some new guy will ask a simple question, and these people will spend half a paragraph berating him for not searching for the topic first when it would have been faster and easier to be helpful and point him to an appropriate link.
  • And that is extra infuriating due to the fact that I have never visited a forum that is more difficult to search and navigate than xda. It has got to be a nightmare for people who are just starting to learn about this stuff. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Haha! Now that is funny!
  • Ah, but you're not looking at the current situation. Devices such as Diablo and Predator are tuning solutions for your performance car that let you "flash the bios" with different tunes for various performance characteristics. For instance, if you have an exhaust and changed the tire diameter, you can flash a tune that alters the car's programming to reflect that. Same thing goes for removing "features" like GM's Skip Shift. They let you change the temperature that the fans engage at. They even let you change the timing of the lifters. So yes, you CAN "Root Your Car" and people have been doing it for decades.
  • This.
  • Ahh so it is almost possible. I was thinking of getting the Pioneer Apple Play or Droid Auto system but decided to rip out the entertainment system and basically the interior for track duty. Car was too loud stock for a radio anyways.
  • I'm an adult. I don't expect my car or my car's navigation/entertainment system to 'nanny-state' me. In fact, I'm having the dealership disable the seatbelt chimes in my car the next time I make a new purchase. I call my current chime 'bitching Betty.' If my seatbelt isn't on then it's from personal choice not from forgetfulness.
  • Not wearing a seatbelt is a personal choice that is going to potentially injure (or likely kill) you — though there's really no reason not to wear a seatbelt, that's up to you. Rooting your Android Auto head unit and installing non-car-safe software is potentially opening up the door for you to do something that can distract you while driving, causing you to injure or kill someone else. There's a difference here. Now that's not saying that putting a 3rd party ROM on your head unit is instantly making it less safe — it could potentially make it more safe if done right — but it certainly opens up the door for bad things to happen. And those bad things won't just happen to you, they could be happening to someone else who wasn't involved in the decision of your toying with the head unit.
  • "Now that's not saying that putting a 3rd party ROM on your head unit is instantly making it less safe — it could potentially make it more safe if done right — but it certainly opens up the door for bad things to happen. And those bad things won't just happen to you, they could be happening to someone else who wasn't involved in the decision of your toying with the head unit." Presumably, the danger here is stripping away the Android Auto safeguards creating more distractions...correct? How is that fundamentally different than if I put in some other headunit with no such limitations? How is it different than drinking a coffee in the car or eating a snack or dealing with rowdy kids or even fiddling with the steering wheel controls to answer a phone call via bluetooth? The point being -- there is nothing about a restriction-free Android Auto headunit that makes it fundamentally more distracting than any other activity that may distract a driver from the road.
  • No, you're absolutely wrong. Technology is the only thing that's ever distracted someone driving a car, and that's 100% proven FACT. If you root your android auto headset, you're 87% more likely to hit an oncoming car head on while parked in your own driveway. Also proven fact.
  • Proven fact? No, Technology isn't the only thing that's ever distracted someone driving a car. Other accidents that looky-loos can't keep their eyes off of, a woman walking down the street in her bra (a la Seinfeld), letting go of the wheel to untwist a pop/soda bottle (believe it or not, many states ban drinking even non-alcoholic beverages for this very reason), unruly kids, unruly pets, a dropped cigarette in the lap, etc... there are many many things that distract drivers that result in accidents.
  • Whoosh! The sarcasm went right over your head.
  • Also 'if you root your android auto headset, you're 87% more likely to hit an oncoming car head on while parked in your own driveway' is not a true statement for starters you wouldn't be moving because you'd be parked... secondly android auto rooting hasn't really started yet, and thirdly where did 87 % come from??
  • So no one ever got blow jobs, had an animal run out into the middle of the road, or rubbernecked a traffic jam on the other side of the highway?!?!? Those must be holograms and virtual sensations, since all driving distractions are technologically based. I don't know everything, but I know that you have proven yourself to be 100% ******* moronic!!!
  • That is an extremely ridiculous argument.
    That is like saying "Well drivers are distracted anyways, so we might as well put a live monkey on the dashboard because that won't be anymore distracting than anything else they are doing!"
    Just because we have other distractions in the vehicle per our choice, doesn't mean manufacturers shouldn't try to restrict even MORE distractions.
  • Exactly! I'm so tired of the argument that so many other things cause distraction. Distracted driving has become a major problem since smartphones became popular (or should I say, cell phones in general). Yes, it's existed before in various ways, but there is no denying that mobile technology (and even over-complicated infotainment systems) has made the problem much, much worse over the years. You're not going to prevent all distractions, but manufacturers should definitely be doing what they can to reduce them. Remember folks, driving is a privilege; not a right. It also requires a lot of attention whether you notice it or not. Posted via my Golden Zenfone 2
  • Before smartphones I saw everything from the cliche makeup application, to folks reading novels on the highway. Technology isn't the problem; the problem is that driving is boring! No one even goes to the bathroom without their phone now, of course they want to be entertained during a 40 minute commute. And to the extent that manufacturers make devices that can't do anything while they're driving those devices will be useless and not purchased by people. Then they'll just have smartphones and an Aux cable, and guess what? That's *more* distracting than having an in-dash head unit with nice big knobs and buttons that would just let them do what they're going to do regardless. The argument isn't that people *should* be distracted while driving. The argument is: you can't stop them, and trying to just causes *more* distractions.
  • I got denied where trying to do that for the dealership I visited. I think the sound is mandated by law where I live so the dealership didn't want to do that. I've only got 2 dealerships for my car manufacteurer too but if you have a car by a larger manufacteur, you could probably keep on visiting a dealership that would do it for you.
    The chime shouldn't be controlled by the infotainment system though, they usually do it through OBD or techstream
    Just saying good luck. I wish I could turn my passenger one off. If I place my phone on the seat or a really light backpack, it thinks someone's is sitting in it and chimes the seatbelt... I hate it, there's no where else to place my backpack either, except the floor which is a pool of water in the wintertime.
  • For your seatbelt chime, take a flip through your owner's manual. I drive Fords and they allow you to turn off the seatbelt alarm with a simple sequence involving buckling and unbuckling the seatbelt a certain number of times in a set amount of time. I've done it on my 14 F150, as well as my 06 Escape and a friend's 08 F150. They were all a bit different but fundamentally the same. Also, I've seen where you can buy just a buckle to put in to stop the dinging as well. Hope that's helpful.
  • Thank you sir. I drive a scion TC and have been wanting to turn that junk off since the beginning.
  • We got a potential Darwin Awards Candidate here!
  • You're really a fucking idiot.
  • Fact: states that have imposed texting-while-driving bans have seen an INCREASE in texting related accidents and deaths. Because now in addition to using their phone, they're trying to do it in a way that passing 50 can't see, like in their laps. People want to use technology in their cars, and they WILL. Make it more convenient and less distracting, for sure, but don't restrict what can and can't be done, or else people are going to be fiddling around with it, trying to disconnect their phones to do something, then reconnect it. It will be MORE distracting and MORE dangerous because guess what: it turns out you can't legislate 100% focus on the road. get over it and stop trying so we can all be much safer.
  • Care to cite your sources for this "Fact"? Because pretty much every source I've searched for and read seem to state quite the opposite.  
  • Interesting... down voted for asking for a confirmation source, and yet... No sources posted.  
  • http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/texting-bans-dont-reduce-crash... http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/03/do-texting-bans-really-prevent-fa... (somewhat) http://watchdog.org/230800/crashes-idaho-anti-texting-laws/
  • This reminds me of the story about the public bathroom that had used paper towel clutter near the exit door, because people wanted to use a paper towel to pull the door handle to exit. Lots of signs were posted admonishing the irresponsible people for not putting their towels in the trashcan on the opposite side of the bathroom from the door. Nothing ever changed. Finally, somebody just moved the trashcan to be near the door, poof, problem solved! No more clutter! People are going to do what they want to do. Finger wagging and shaming about how irresponsible they are isn't going to help (much). Give them a solution that lets them do what they want safely instead.
  • Right! The correct approach is to make the tasks people want to do in their cars easier and less distracting to accomplish. Not to make them more of a hassle or illegal in the hopes that people will just decide they didn't want to do those tasks anyway. Only Steve Jobs had the power to make people think they just didn't even want copy/paste, etc...
  • I know I don't enjoy riding my bike anymore because I'm always afraid that someone is possibly looking on their phone and going to ram into me so I don't ride my bike nearly as much because I can't just focus on having fun and enjoying my ride. All I can focus on is I wonder if the next car is going to run into me.
  • I think one of the key points in this article (and the avic411 post) is that this will enable ALL Pioneer AVIC units to run Android from an SD card and therefore a full AA interface on non-AA units. My three year old X940BT supports AppRadio on iOS but not on Android for example and, once ROMs are developed, I will be able to run full AA on it. I was considering replacing it with an AA unit, this saves me time, effort, and money!
  • Can I PLEASE get a list of Artists, Albums, Songs in AA now? That's the only thing holding AA back to me... 3rd party ROMs to the rescue Posted via the Android Central App
  • As long as AA plays my GPlay music, podcast, radio, lets me make phone calls, lets me navigate to where I got to go, maybe voice text a little, or maybe does a quick search of something, I'm good to go. I don't need it to be pink, brown, or grow wings and fly. I sure as hades don't want to spend countless hours trying out different roms for it. If I want to play around, I can always use my Android phone.
  • As long as there is a KITT ROM, im down. Complete with his voice of course. Posted via Android Central App
  • Yes, yes I would.
  • Rooting a car? That's what hotrodding is all about!
  • Hotromming,
  • People "root" their cars all the time... better engines, spark plugs, intake, exhaust.
    it's one of the better analogies I use when trying to explain to friends what rooting and unlocking mean. UI - behind the wheel
    root - under the hood
    unlock - opening the engine where you can make adjustments
    rom - body kit
  • So I was excited by the fact that Android Auto was coming out, but now I've got second thoughts. How compatible will it be with future phones? I purchase used cars and who's to say that my 2019 Android 9.0 device will even interface with a car on Android Auto 6.0? The idea is great, but I'd rather have a head unit with MirrorLink. Enable Android Auto mode when connected to a head unit with MirrorLink, Similar to the old car mode. Any thoughts?
  • Considering my current car is 13+ years old an approaching 200K, I think that is a very valid concern. If you buy your cars used, drive them till they die, AA probably isn't going to keep up with the technology. My 2002 has an dealer but not factor installed VCR. Loved it when I bought it in 2004 but haven't used VCR in forever. Do like that it has RCA jacks that has come in handy for feeding a DVD signal or an audio signal through it.
  • Yeah, what I'm going to do is install a buggy, experimental rom from someone with no responsibility for whatever distractions it may cause. I don't need my in-car nav freezing up on me a half mile before some complicated intersection where I miss a turn and land in the projects. What about a bug that mistakenly allows explicit songs to play while my kids are in the car? What about a bug that makes me drop off an important conference call? No thanks. Go ahead and tinker all you want, but don't drive your bug-infested car on public roads. Rooting the car is just plain stupid. Posted via the Android Central App