After announcing a digital car key feature for Android earlier this year, Google has finally flipped the switch: Now you can lock, unlock, and start your car using your Android phone—if you’re using a Google Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, or Samsung Galaxy S21 with a compatible BMW, that is. For the handful of you out there that meet this specific criteria, it’s a big day.
Google has also been working hard on overhauling the Android experience in the car. It began by paring down its Android Auto phone app and swapping it for a Google Assistant Driving Mode, and now it’s delivering more on its plans to make the in-dash car hub as hands-free as possible.
The company announced a host of new features rolling out to Android Auto beginning today. Now when you start your car with your smartphone nearby, Android Auto will launch automatically on the dashboard if it’s already been synced. Additionally, Google has added an always-on “play” button, which you can tap on the main screen of Android Auto to start playing your favorite music.
Google has also brought its smart replies to the Android Auto dashboard. This might be less distracting than attempting to interface with the Assistant and dictating a message while focusing on the road.
An Android Auto feature coming soon is the ability to use your voice to search for music within other media apps, as it’s currently not the easiest to do while driving. When the feature is live, you’ll be able to tap the search icon on the dashboard to command Google Assistant play an artist or song.
A Few Other Helpful Updates
Google is also rolling out additional new features for Android outside of the car. The company is expanding the permissions auto-reset ability to more devices with Google Play services that run Android 6.0 and higher. It’s great news for anyone who is on an older device, as it helps retract permissions from any apps that have been dormant for a while. The auto-reset ability was previously limited to devices running Android 11 and above, which is when Google initially introduced the feature.
Families that rely on the Family Bell no longer need Google Assistant-equipped devices placed throughout the home to hear it. Now you can use a mobile device to get those planned breaks and shift-overs as you need. It might also make for a quieter alert, which is helpful if only half the household is expected to adhere to the Family Bell.
For widgets lovers, especially those currently enjoying Android 12’s Material You aesthetic, there are a few new ones to place on your phone’s home screen. There’s a YouTube Music widget that puts the playback controls and recently played tracks right there. And next week, Google will roll out a new Play Books widget, allowing you to access your library of books and audiobooks. As a longtime Android user, I have an extensive library stored in Play Books, and I’m glad to see this finally included in the widget lineup. A Google Photos widget will showcase your favorite people and pets so that you can relive the memories from the same screen you’re launching your “I’m Feeling Sad” playlist. It’s all coming together.