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Kia says the Soul is one of the first models to feature Android Auto (Photo: Kia)

With Volkswagen and Volvo Cars the latest auto brands to join the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA), the Google initiative to boost the use of Android devices in cars is making headway. But carmakers  stressed that they will be working closely with Apple as well to make sure devices running on both operating systems can be seamlessly connected.

Google's alliance, established in January, now has 35 member, including most of the world's major car brands. Android is the dominant operating systems for smartphones worldwide.

“We're excited about the incredible momentum of the Open Automotive Alliance, Google Engineering Director Patrick Brady said in a press statement. He added that the growing partner ecosystem creates "an incredible foundation for bringing Android into automobiles with a seamless and connected experience."

Volkswagen said its move to join the OAA underlines the closer links it is establishing with the IT industry. ""Joining the Open Automotive Alliance is the next milestone to connect our infotainment modules with the consumer electronics world",  Volkmar Tanneberger, Volkswagen's head of electrical and electronic development, said.

Google has developed a standard for integrating Android devices in the car, "Android Auto." The technology makes it possible for smart phone content to be displayed on the vehicle infotainment system. It has also developed an Android app that is optimized for the automotive environment.

Volvo Cars said it had joined the OAA so it can provide a smooth connection for users of Android devices. Android Auto "will offer our customers a new degree of fluidity and accessibility in the usage of their mobile devices," said Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson.

Kia, whose parent company Hyundai also is a founding OAA member, said its infotainment integration will be one of the first products to emerge from the alliance. Starting in 2015, the Korean brand will offer Android Auto in select models in the US.

"The ability to 'project' the smartphone's applications and functionality has been a strong customer demand that we aspired to address," said Paul Choo, director of Hyundai Group's Silicon Valley Accelerator Lab,

Kia showed a Kia Soul model equipped with Android Auto at the Google II/O developer conference in San Francisco this week. Using the Soul's 8-inch touchscreen, a driver can control an Android phone connected through a regular USB connection. Once connected, the phone's screen is mirrored on the Soul's in-dash display, providing access to apps and services. The display has been optimized for in-car use and voice control has been added.

Apple

Google and Apple in the past year have stepped up their efforts to seamlessly link their devices - and their respective app ecosystems - with the car's infotainment systems. And automakers want to make sure they are agnostic when it comes to which phone brand a driver wants to connect.

While Android is the leading smartphone operating system, Apple's iPhone, which runs on the company's iOS operating system, is widely seen as having stronger brand equity. According to market researchers IDC, Android devices had a 78 percent share of the market for new phone and tablet sales at the end of 2013, compared with Apple's 18 percent.

Volvo reaffirmed that all models based on its new scalable product architecture will offer Apple CarPlay access as well. And Audi announced this week it will integrate both the Google Android Auto and Apple CarPlay software platforms into its Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI).

"We are working closely with leading companies like Google and Apple," Audi R&D boss Ulrich Hackenberg said in a statement. "In the future, customers will be able to use the functions available to them on their smartphones via the operating systems in their cars as well." Audi is a founding member of the Google alliance.

-By Arjen Bongard