Prepare Your Phone and Your Car for Major Android Auto Changes

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Google’s bringing a ton of new Assistant-led features to Android Auto on the phone and in the dash. 
Image: Google – Google wants you to be able to use Android Auto completely hands-free.

Google has announced that the Android Auto software for Android phones will be discontinued, and that a new way to navigate using Google Assistant in Google Maps will be introduced. Google said today that its new Google Assistant driving mode for Android phones would get a redesigned dashboard that makes it easier to use hands-free and eliminates the need to specify a location in Maps to get started. When Android 12 is released in the coming weeks, the Assistant driving mode will be baked in, and the new dashboard will be available on phones that can’t update to 12.

All you have to do is say, “Hey Google, let’s go,” and the new driving mode launcher will appear over the regular home screen. You may also use a Bluetooth device to have the driving mode appear after you start your car and before you get on the road. More information on how to set it up can be found here.

It’s worth noting that this update only affects Android phones, not the in-dash version of Android Auto on your car’s display. If your car lacks an in-dash display, you may use the phone version as a substitute, and this update makes it easier to do so.

The Assistant driving mode is part of Google’s “voice-forward” effort to helping users use their gadgets securely while driving. Since November 2020, when it introduced the initial Assistant driving mode within the Google Maps app, the firm has been working on the transition from the Android Auto app for phones. The difference today is that the functionality will be included in Android 12 and will no longer be available as a stand-alone feature. It will also not be available for iOS users.

Say “Hey Google, let’s drive” and the Assistant driving mode dashboard will pop up on your phone.
Gif: Google

You can still have alerts read aloud as they come in by asking Google to switch on auto-read, just like the soon-to-be-phased-out Android Auto app for smartphones. Automatic recommendations, as well as entertainment recommendations from applications you’ve loaded on your smartphone, will appear on the map regardless of whether you’re in navigation mode. The new Google Assistant driving mode will also be compatible with third-party vehicle accessories such as the Roav Bolt.

The new Assistant driving mode capabilities will be available in the coming weeks as part of Android 12 and as a software upgrade for phones running previous Android versions. Users who are using previous versions of the Android Auto app or Google Maps’ Assistant driving mode will be “directed toward this experience,” according to Google, but the app will stay in the Play Store for the time being. The Android Auto phone app will be removed if you upgrade to Android 12.

Changes to Android Auto Are Coming to Cars

Android Auto on car screens will also get new capabilities from Google. On the main display, the Assistant will start to propose additional music, news, and podcasts, and it will be able to switch applications on the screen with a voice command. Android users with dual-SIM cards will be able to swap between multiple phone numbers. In addition, Android Auto will enable work profiles in the car, allowing you to view data for meetings and directions that are connected with your other activities.

Google is adding games to the display, albeit only after Android Auto has identified that your car is parked, which may seem counterintuitive given the whole hands-free aspect of using Android Auto. GameSnacks games are meant to assist people pass the time while waiting in lines for things like school pickup. It’s also to keep you from ever touching your smartphone.

An example of what the game apps will look like in Android Auto once the car is in Park. 
Image: Google

Another Android Auto feature to look for is the option to pay for petrol using only your voice. Shouting “pay for petrol” will prompt the Assistant to ask for your pump number before initiating the purchase using Google Pay. When it first becomes accessible, the hands-free payment capability will be offered at over 32,500 petrol stations, beginning with select Exxon and Mobile stations. Over time, Google intends to add functionality for Shell, Conoco, Phillips 66, and 76 gas stations.

Google has been integrated directly into the vehicle

Google stated that Honda would begin using the Android Automotive platform in vehicles such as the Civic in 2022. Honda joins Ford, GM, Polestar, Renault, and Volvo in introducing Android Automotive in their vehicles.

Android Automotive is a version of Android that runs directly in the automobile and is better integrated with the rest of the hardware. Android Automotive allows you to operate elements of the automobile that standard Android Auto does not, such as the HVAC and instrument cluster.

Android Automotive will also include some new features for electric vehicles. The operating system will provide more specific information, such as charging station locations and if they are easily available.

As a long-time user of the Android Auto app for smartphones (from its introduction in 2015), I’m relieved to hear that some much-needed adjustments are on the way for how Android handles infotainment in the car. For those of us who have stupid vehicles without displays, the shift has been difficult. The Assistant driving mode in Google Maps is still significantly limited in comparison to the Android Auto for phones app—at least until the new Assistant driving mode is released. It’s apparent that the software hasn’t had a substantial upgrade in a long time, and it lacks the elegance of Android Auto on the dash.

I’m interested how soon the transition will take place, and whether it will be as smooth for non-Pixel devices that aren’t updating to Android 12 on day one. For the time being, it appears that I will continue to utilize the Android Auto software for phones until the Assistant-led driving mode becomes available on my device.