Google plans to discontinue the Android Auto app for Android phones, and has created a new way to navigate using Google Assistant in Google Maps. Today Google said its new Google Assistant driving mode for Android phones is getting a new dashboard that’s easier to use hands-free and won’t require you to set a destination in Maps to get started. The Assistant driving mode will be baked into Android 12 when it rolls out in the coming weeks, and the new dashboard will also be available on phones that can’t upgrade to 12.
All you have to say is, “Hey Google, let’s drive,” and the new driving mode launcher will appear over the usual home screen. You can also set a preferred Bluetooth device to make the driving mode pop up once you’ve turned on your car and before you hit the road. You can read more about how to set it up here.
It’s important to note that this change is specific to Android phones, not the in-dash version of Android Auto on your car’s display. If your car lacks an in-dash display, you can use the phone version as a substitute, and this update will make that easier.
Google calls the Assistant driving mode part of its “voice-forward” approach to help people use their devices safely while they’re behind the wheel. The company has been working on the transition from the Android Auto app for phones since November 2020, when it launched the original Assistant driving mode within the Google Maps app. The difference now is that the feature will be part of Android 12, and it’s no longer a standalone feature. It also won’t be available for iOS device users.
Like the soon-to-be phased-out Android Auto app for smartphones, you can still get notifications read aloud as they come in by asking Google to turn on auto-read. Automatic recommendations will pop on the map regardless if you’re in navigation mode, as will entertainment recommendations from the apps you have installed on your smartphone. The new Google Assistant driving mode will also work with third-party car accessories like the Roav Bolt.
The new Assistant driving mode features will start rolling out over the coming weeks, both as part of Android 12 and as an update for phones on older Android software. Google said that users relying on older versions of the Android Auto app or Assistant driving mode in Google Maps will be “guided towards this experience,” but that the app will remain in the Play Store for the time being. If you upgrade to Android 12, the Android Auto phone app will go away.
Google is also bringing new features to Android Auto on car displays. The Assistant will start to serve more music, news, and podcast recommendations on the main display, and it will be able to switch apps on the screen with a voice command. Dual-SIM Android users will also be able to switch between different phone numbers. And Android Auto will support work profiles in the car, so you’ll see details for meetings and directions integrated with the rest of your life.
Though it might seem contrary to the whole hands-free part of using Android Auto, Google is also bringing games to the display, though only once Android Auto has detected that your car is parked. GameSnacks games are designed to help folks pass the time as they’re, say, waiting in the school pickup line. It’s also to help discourage you from ever putting your hand on your smartphone.
Another feature to look out for in Android Auto is the ability to pay for gas using only your voice. Shout “pay for gas,” and the Assistant will ask for your pump number before it starts the transaction within Google Pay. The hands-free payment ability will be available at more than 32,500 gas stations when it starts to roll out, beginning with select Exxon and Mobile stations. Google plans to eventually add support for Shell, Conoco, Phillips 66, and 76 stations over time.
Google announced that Honda will start to use the Android Automotive platform in models like the Civic beginning in 2022. Honda joins Ford, General Motors, Polestar, Renault, and Volvo in offering Android Automotive in its vehicles.
Android Automotive runs directly in the car and is more integrated with the rest of the hardware. You can use Android Automotive to control parts of the car you can’t with regular Android Auto, like the HVAC and instrument cluster.
Electric vehicles will also get some new features in Android Automotive. The OS will show more targeted information, like charging station locations and whether they’re readily available.
As a longtime user of the Android Auto app for the smartphone—since its debut in 2015—I’m happy to hear some much-needed changes are coming to how Android does infotainment in the car. The transition hasn’t been easy for those of us who have dumb cars without displays. The Assistant driving mode within Google Maps remains severely limited compared to the Android Auto for phones app—at least until the updated Assistant driving mode rolls out. It’s clear the app hasn’t received a significant update in a long time, and it doesn’t have anywhere near the polish of Android Auto in the dash.
I’m curious how quickly the changeover will occur and if it’ll be as fluid for non-Pixel smartphones that aren’t upgrading to Android 12 on day one. For now, it looks like I’ll continue to use the Android Auto app for phones until the Assistant-led driving mode is a sure thing on my device.