The ultimate guide to Android Auto

Everything you need to know about Google's roadmap

The ultimate Android Auto guide
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We all know it's downright dangerous to use our smartphones while driving, but that's an annoying limitation when they hold so much useful stuff: maps, traffic alerts, music, incoming messages from the group chat.

While infotainment systems have tried to take on some of this work, too many of them are slow and buggy. Apple stepped in to try to address the problem with CarPlay, but it didn't take long for Google to come along with its own solution, Android Auto.

But how does Android Auto work, and who supports it? We've got you.

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is Google's infotainment system, a way for you to simply get information from your phone without having to commit the dangerous act of trying to navigate it while driving.

Your phone's apps, notifications, messages, music and maps instead display on the screen. Even better, you'll get the power of Google Assistant on the road, so Assistant can handle all your queries and commands, just like it can on your phone and on Google Home speakers.

Read this: Your ultimate guide to Google Assistant

The goal with Auto is to emulate your phone experience in the car, in a way that's safe to use. Whereas Google is always trying to find new ways for us to use our smartphones and smartwatches, when it comes to Android Auto the goal is to help us minimize the time spent looking at it, or at least interacting with it.

Android Auto now comes pre-installed on devices running Android 10.

How do you get Android Auto?

There are three ways to get Android Auto, and the first two concern your car. You'll need to make sure you either have a compatible car or a compatible aftermarket speaker setup.

There are about 500 cars with Android Auto support. Android Auto has a slight advantage in the aftermarket speaker game, offering support from a wide variety of manufacturers like Alpine, Pioneer, JBL, Sony, Panasonic, Kenwood, Unimax, Evus, Clarion, Mongoose, Macrom and more.

The third, simpler, way is to simply download the Android Auto app. For Android 10 this is now called 'Android Auto for phone screens' but it does essentially the same job of mimicking the Auto interface on your phone, but with bigger icons and text.

Google actually demoed a replacement called Assistant Driving Mode back at I/O in 2019, which is going to make the smartphone side of the experience much, much better, but still hasn't rolled out. Expect it to drop later in 2020.

The ultimate guide to Android Auto

Which apps run on Android Auto?

For mapping, Android Auto gives you both Google Maps and Waze to choose from. If you need to communicate with someone, Android Auto features support for WhatsApp, Kik, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Google Hangouts, WeChat, Google Allo, Signal, ICQ (yes, ICQ) and more.

If you're looking to blast some tunes, you've got Pandora, Spotify, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, YouTube Music, Deezer, Amazon Music, doubleTwist and more. If you're looking to listen to some audio books or news broadcasts, there's Audiobooks by Audible, NPR One, MLB At Bat and a host of other options.

Get more: Android TV tips & tricks

Google has also been tweaking the messaging experience, so you'll now see a preview of the text, but only when the vehicle is stopped. It's also finally letting you mute notifications. This seems like a feature that should have been there from there start but, well, Google's gonna Google.

MMS and RCS messages are supported too, as are WhatsApps. Music playback has improved too, making it faster to select tracks and artists with an improved interface and larger album art. Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Google Play Music have total integration with the new and improved interface.

Google has a big list of compatible apps in the Play Store you can check out. Unlike Apple's more closed system, which requires Apple and a company to work in support for apps, Google seems more freewheeling in letting whatever app wants access to Android Auto to get it.

The ultimate guide to Android Auto

How to set up and use Android Auto

The first thing you'll need to do is make sure you have either a compatible car or aftermarket speaker. Once you do that, do the following:

1) Plug your phone into the car via a high-quality USB cable.
2) Android Auto should open automatically.
3) Say, "OK Google."

On some cars, you can also long press the voice control button to activate Google Assistant.

If you don't have a compatible aftermarket speaker or car, you simply need to download the Android Auto app and open it while you're driving – or get a passenger to do so.

If you go with the app, it might be a good idea to also get a car mount so that you don't have to hold your phone or pick it up out of a cupholder when you need it.

Once you're using Android Auto, you may notice that it looks a little familiar. That's right, Google has brought over the card-like look of Google Now to Android Auto. You'll get a series of cards, like a messaging card or a music card, with quick actions such as a reply to say "I'm driving now", or one to play or pause a song.

It's all right there on your main screen, so you won't have to bounce in and out of apps like you do in CarPlay. Below the main screen, you'll see a little menu that gives you shortcuts to frequently used apps.

The ultimate guide to Android Auto

The future of Android Auto

Whereas for some time Google's commitment to Android Auto was unclear, support has been ramping up as we've headed into 2020. This includes small things, like adding a weather icon to the nav bar (looking out the window is so 2019).

Other updates rolled out through 2019 have also made the experience much better. The app launcher will now show you your most frequently used apps, while the updated navigation bar at the bottom of the display lets you control multiple apps without leaving the navigation screen and losing sight of the directions.

There's also a night mode, so you don't blind yourself when driving in the dark.

The next big feature we're waiting on is the aforementioned Assistant Driving Mode, which will be more centered around the Google Assistant and recommendations based on your likes and habits. It was supposed to launch in 2019 but was, sadly, delayed.

But more important than that, more and more car manufacturers are pledging support. As noted by 9to5Google in February 2020, over 70 new cars have added support, with the number now over 500. And expect more to come.

Back in September 2018, Google signed a deal with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, one of the biggest automakers in the world. Its cars will use Android to power its infotainment systems starting in 2021.

Perhaps one day you won't even need to connect your phone to your car, especially if connected cars with 5G become prevalent after 2020. You would just sign into your Google account and get driving. That's the dream, right?

The ultimate guide to Android Auto

Other ways to get Google in your car

Not everyone has an infotainment system, and so Google is opening up other ways to get inside your car. For example, it's getting Google Assistant in there with devices like the Roav Bolt, which plugs into your car's charging socket, connects to your phone and routes the audio through your car speakers.

Hey presto, your car is now a Google Home on wheels.

Who supports Android Auto?

You're sold on Android Auto. You're not going to opt for simply downloading the app and want a more seamless experience while you're driving.

Well, there are more than 500 car models that support Android Auto, from more than 50 brands, and the list is continually growing – BMW is the latest big name to announce support will be coming to all of its cars that support iDrive 7.0.

There's a full list of compatible cars and stereo systems on Google's website. Go check it out.

TAGGED    google

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