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 mom.
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.
Read this: Your ultimate guide to Google Assistant
But how does Android Auto work, and who supports it? We got you.
Update: Design refresh for Auto
Google has updated Android Auto with some significant new additions, some of which were teased just prior to I/O 2019 back in May.
One prominent change is a new navigation bar at the bottom of the display, allowing drivers to control multiple apps without leaving the navigation screen and losing their all-important directions.
The app launcher has also been refreshed to better show the most frequently used apps, and more apps will now feature Google Assistant badges. That means fewer taps should be necessary to get updates and access apps while driving. The entire platform can also morph to the dimensions of your car's screen.
Apps will also have more power to resume media exactly where you left off with them, which wasn't one of the system's strengths before. Finally, a night mode has been added to make night-time use easier.
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.
For mapping, you have both Google Maps and Waze at your service. 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.
Get more: Android TV tips & tricks
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.
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. 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.
If you're looking for app support, Android Auto has plenty of that too. 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. For music, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Google Play Music have total integration with the new and improved interface, while Pandora will get it soon.
The future of Android Auto
Before we move on, it's worth taking a pitstop. 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.
That means that its cars will come with Google Maps, Google Play and Google Assistant baked in. In fact, you might not have to connect your phone to your car, especially if connected cars with 5G become prevalent after 2020. You would just sign in to your Google account and get going.
How do you get Android Auto?
There are three ways to get Android Auto. The first two ways are based on your car. You'll need to make sure you either have a compatible car or a compatible aftermarket speaker setup.
There are about 400 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 on your phone. The app essentially mimics the dashboard interface of Android Auto, but on your phone. The idea is that it still provides a better experience while driving, using bigger icons and text to make it easier to see and touch things.
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 ‚Äď 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.
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.
But you don't even need to do that. Android's Assistant Driving Mode creates a new dashboard for your phone, putting navigation, messages, calling and music front and centre. It will also serve up recommendations, such as popular routes. Or, if you have an upcoming dinner reservation in your calendar, it'll suggest setting a route there. You just have to say, "Hey Google, let's drive", and stick it on your dashboard.
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.
Google keeps a list of the car manufacturers that support Android Auto on its website, and it even has a list of those that will support the hands-free experience in the future. Regardless, you should find an option with most popular brands.
Without further ado, here's a list of car manufacturers that support Android Auto.
- Alfa Romeo
- Aston Martin
- Tata Motors
And if you were wondering which cars were coming soon:
- Land Rover