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Google I/O launches Android Auto, Apple's CarPlay rival

As expected, one of the big new announcements at Google’s I/O conference was Android Auto which takes Google’s mobile operating system into vehicles.

Android Auto runs on your smartphone but the apps and features are mirrored and can be controlled through a touchscreen in the vehicle. The car-specific interface is a simplified version of the forthcoming (and unnamed) Android L release, with larger less distracting 'touch targets'.

You can interact with Android Auto by touch, through in-car controls, or voice - all of which makes it a lot safer than fumbling about with your phone when you get a text message - and the platform can be used to control navigation, music and messaging.

Read more: Google I/O 2014 keynote live: Coverage, pictures and analysis

Like Google Now it uses contextual awareness to display information you might want to know at just the right time -- such as reminders when you get close to work or home. And because it’s all linked to your phone, you’ll get these reminders whether you’re inside or outside the vehicle.

Google says the Android Auto SDK will be made available to developers "soon" and the company has lined up 28 automakers and tech companies, including Fiat, Volvo, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan and Mitsubishi, as part of the Open Automotive Alliance. The first compatible vehicles are expected to roll off the production line this fall.

Apple announced its own similar in-car system, CarPlay, four months ago. It will be interesting to see how the two competing platforms do and does beg the question if you switch from an iPhone to an Android, or vice versa, will you need to change cars? Or choose a vehicle based on your smartphone preference? Although there's been no word yet, I'd expect to see car makers opt to simply incorporate both systems in future vehicles.