What is Android Auto?

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is the latest product from Google that’s designed as an alternative to CarPlay but for Android users. Similar to the Apple infotainment solution, Android Auto will use your Android smartphone to enable apps and extra features while driving.

Having just debuted last week, automakers have already announced support for this system giving the two major names in the world of smartphones a home in the car. You can expect production cars to debut with this system before the end of the year, but for those still wondering about Android Auto, we’ve got your fix right here.

dev-1Instead of relying on the car’s computer, which is often outdated, Android Auto uses your phone as the source of its computing power. Additionally, Internet connectivity and apps come right from your device. All you have to do is plug the phone into your car and your phone experience is sent right to your the infotainment system.

The familiar user experience between your phone and car is an advantage. Android Auto displays your phone’s information on your vehicle touchscreen in a simplified form designed for safe use on the road while preserving a recognizably Android interface.

There are only four permanent shortcuts: music, navigation, phone and your vehicle information. There is also a central “home” screen that combines information from each of those areas. Double tap one of the shortcuts and the screen will show you a list of all the apps on your phone that you can use. For example, the music shortcut includes the Google Play Music app, Pandora, Rdio and Spotify. Each app has a uniform design, so it all acts exactly the same no matter which service you’re using.

Using a similar design language to the Google Now feature on modern Android devices, the screen uses “cards” to share information with you. Each card is a piece of information that the device thinks you’re going to need. As an example, a card might show you the distance and route to your next appointment. Give it a poke and it launches Google Maps with the destination pre-loaded.

in-car-maps-listThis is a Google product, so when you use Google on your phone to search for a point of interest, that destination can even show up in the cards on your in-car touchscreen, so you don’t have to enter the destination manually. If you want to search for something while driving, all you have to say is “OK Google” and the voice recognition and search begins. Not only will this allow you to call contacts hands free, but the search is context-sensitive and can do things like answer questions about operating hours of a local shop.


Notifications including incoming text messages and navigation instructions pop up on the top edge of the screen like they would on your smartphone. To respond to a message, you must use Google’s voice-recognition software. Typing on the screen with your finger is off limits because it requires you to look away from the road. Android Auto also locks down your phone, so you can’t pick it up to circumvent the system. Apple CarPlay also has this feature to curb distracted driving.

Thanks to a coalition called the Open Android Alliance, many tech companies and auto industry leaders have committed to bringing the Android platform to cars. Android Auto seems to be the strongest ways to accomplish this task. In North America, 21 major automakers have already stated that their future cars will have Android Auto compatibility.

SEE ALSO: What is Apple CarPlay?

Additionally, a few automakers, like Hyundai and Volvo, have announced Android Auto support alongside Apple CarPlay, meaning if you own either an Android powered phone or an iPhone, you’ll have a richer infotainment experience than the manufacturer provided system.

  • So when I buy a car will I have a choice of apple or android? What if I change phones, will the dash be interchangeable? What if I don’t don’t have a phone to connect? This is gonna get complicated!

  • Sarah H

    Awesome article. A simple answer to a question I had.

  • If you don’t have a phone, I suspect the choice becomes somewhat simpler.

  • Sami Haj-Assaad

    Great question Lukas, but it’s not that complicated. Your choice will be tied directly to the phone you own. Lets say you buy a new Hyundai Sonata and get the manufacturer navigation system upgrade – technically you’ll have three choices of navi-tainment, since it will support both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

    If you have an iPhone, you will just connect the phone to the car via a USB Lightening cable. If you have an Android phone, you do the same, but with a regular USB cable.

    If you don’t have a smart phone, or have a Windows Phone or BlackBerry, you can use the manufacturer provided infotainment system. I hope that helps clear things up!

  • Thanks for the explanation. I thought each system would have one OS installed on it so you can only use it with one phone manufacturer.

  • Mike

    Google Thinks It Understand Everything! Better If They Fix Their Crabby Search Engine!