Android Auto Is Finally Leaving Its Childhood Days

Android Auto got a big update which is rolling out right now. Android Auto is Google’s counterpart to Apple CarPlay. Android Auto mirrors your device onto the integrated infotainment screen of your car. To do so, the infotainment system must support Android Auto. Most newer cars support both, Google’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It might have to be activated in the infotainment settings.

The new version of Android Auto was announced back at Google’s I/O conference in May 2019 and is finally hitting consumer devices. Keep an eye open for the Android Auto update in the Google Play Store.

So what’s new? First of all the new version comes with a major design change. If you used Android Auto in the past, you know that all your apps were put in different categories like Navigation, Multimedia,… To open your app, you had to change to that category and then tap the category icon again to bring up a list with apps for that category. These complicated times are now over.

Now you hit the home button at the bottom row (the round button all the way to the left) and an app-grid will appear with all installed and Android Auto-compatible apps. Besides the app, you find also useful Google Assistant shortcuts like News, Weather, Calendar and Reminder (the icons of these functions have a little Google Assistant logo next to them). If you click for example “News”, you will hear the latest news with a short instruction beforehand how to use it. You can trigger the same event by either tapping the Google Assistant Voice Control Button at the bottom bar (all the way to the right) and say “latest news”.

Most cars let you activate the Android Auto Voice Command by either tapping the voice control button on the steering wheel. The car then knows if Android Auto is active and will redirect it. Some cars you have to push and hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Android Auto Voice Command. All of the above mentioned Google Assistant shortcuts trigger an event where you get to hear information, the only exception is the reminder. If you tap the Reminder icon you can record a new reminder but it won’t read current reminders back to you.

When Android Auto is started it automatically switches into your last used navigation app (Google Maps or Waze) and plays music from your last used music app.

At the bottom bar, you find all the import elements of the new layout. Besides the home button and Voice Control, it also shows a notification icon. This one will notify you if there are any new text messages in supported apps like Messages, Whatsapp, Telegram,…

Also, the bottom bar shows now your music controls and you can play, pause and skip tracks right from the bar, even if you are not in the music app. This is a huge improvement compared to the old version. If you are in the music app, the same spot will show navigation hinds about your next turn. Switching back and forward between your navigation and music is now super easy thanks to the bottom bar elements.

They also improved the speed. Switching back and forward is now almost instantaneous rather than the short delay I was used to in the previous version of Android Auto. Starting of Android Auto is now way quicker as well.

The new dark-themed look of Android Auto makes it look more elegant and provides a cleaner appearance overall. It also reduces eyestrain in low light situations. This is way better than the switch to a darker theme during night time in the previous version.

I mainly use Android Auto in rental cars and I always look when I get a car assigned that it is capable of Android Auto. Rental car companies still charge you outrages fees for their rental GPS systems. In some cases, I would rather have a paper map than their rental GPS unit. Newer cars come also with built-in navigation which they don’t charge you extra for. However, I love to have my Google Maps (Account) with me. It gives me all my stored places and Google’s predictive AI knows most of the time where I want to go. I can explore the area and look up places on Google Maps on my PC and then have it seamless available in my rental car.

Oh, boy, do I love the new phone app. The old phone app was a nightmare. Once you opened it, you had only the last call as your “call history” and the next spots on the display were your favorite contacts. Now, this all changed. The new app gives you easy access to call history, contacts and works just way easier and more intuitive. I also love that they changed the way phone calls are made via voice command. Previously, if you were navigating and started a voice command to call someone, it kicked you out of the navigation screen and showed the phone app on Android Auto. In the new version, you will stay on the navigation screen but it will show important call buttons at the bottom row while a call is active. So it’s easy to end or mute a call and still can focus on driving and not have to swap back immediately to the navigation app.

How to get the new Android Auto

All you have to do to get the new Android Auto make sure you download the latest version from Google Play Store.

Once installed, start the app without being connected to a car. Open the menu and select settings. In there enable “Try the new Android Auto“.

It’s weird as there is a “Settings” icon as well if you launch Android Auto on your car’s infotainment system. If you tap on it, it just tells you that you have to open settings in your app while not connected to a car. I think these settings are for future expansions of Android Auto and looks like we will get to see more functionality in the coming months. I hope they give us theming options like some car manufacturer’s infotainment systems. I am thinking about you Dodge/Chrysler.

The best part about the whole update procedure, you don’t have to update anything in your car. If it’s your car, it’s probably easy but with rental cars, I am not sure how easy the process will be. Thankfully there is no need for that. I am running the latest version of Android Auto since a few days now on my rental Ford Explorer and I just love it.

All the photos above are taken with my current Ford Explorer rental car. Do you use the new app already or do you prefer the old style of the app? What do you like most or is there anything which is missing or could be improved? I am curious to hear from you guys about the experience with the new version of the app. Hopefully, Google adds more features soon. It would be nice to also watch Netflix and co while parked or if you have multiple monitors, to stream your content to the rear seat monitors from your connected device.

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