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Turn your ‘dumb’ car smart with Android Auto

Android Auto is a simple application that essentially allows you to turn your “dumb” car into a smart car using the power of your smartphone.

Designed with safety in mind, this simple and intuitive interface, integrates with steering wheel controls and powerful new voice actions to minimise distraction so that you can stay focused on the road.

Using your phone, you can broadcast a new user interface onto your car's touchscreen, thus bringing the full power of the latest phones to your car. All you need to do is plug your phone into a compatible receiver with the same sort of cable you use to charge. Your phone and the apps you already have then push information to the large display that is in your car.

Android Auto’s main goal is to keep your phone out of your hand, and keep you safer behind the wheel.

Here are 4 things to know about Android Auto:

You don’t need to go out a buy a new car

Google doesn’t expect you to go out and buy a new car just to have access to Android Auto. Brands like Pioneer, Alpine, Clarion, and JVC/Kenwood are already a part of the Open Automotive Alliance, so you can at least pay to have your dashboard system upgraded.

Not every car manufacturer is on board

If your car manufacturer isn’t a part of the Open Automotive Alliance, then you might be out of luck. Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are among some of the manufacturers missing from the list. Bear in mind that this could change in the years to come. 

Everything stays on your phone

The best part of Android Auto is that everything stays tied to your phone, including your music, your personal details, and the places you travel to the most. No data is stored internally on the receiver in your car. Updates are delivered to the apps on your phone, too, so as long as your phone stays up to date, so does Android Auto.

You can’t control the radio with it

This is actually a bummer for those of us who still like to flick between local radio stations. Android Auto can’t control your AM/FM or satellite radio, nor does it control the locks in your car or the air conditioning because it’s primarily focused on delivering the features you use most on your phone in a manner that isn’t distracting to your driving.

What happens when you connect?

The first time you connect your phone, you will need to click through a few warnings and disclaimers – both on the phone and the head unit. These warnings are just reminding you that you should abide by common sense while driving, do it safely etc. Once done, you can put your phone down and let the car display handle the rest. The phone itself does all the heavy lifting.

Once you are connected, it will not be possible to use your phone – you’ll just see “Android Auto” on your phone’s screen should you turn it on. Android Auto, at its core, is meant to make you put your phone down and drive safely. However, it isn’t impossible to stop this from happening but obviously nobody is recommending you do so.

Unsurprisingly, the mapping service of choice in Android Auto is Google Maps. Google has struck an incredible balance between glanceable information and usability. You can search and initiate navigation with you voice, through the menu system, or through from the Overview screen.

With a wealth of information, such as telling you which lane to be in for your next turn, it’ll tell you how much longer it’ll take you to get somewhere if you don’t take the recommended turn. It’ll show your estimate time of arrival. Real-time traffic updates. All of these features are available in regular old Google Maps on your phone, but it’s especially significant as it’ll make your trip a whole lot safer.

You can also receive text messages through Android Auto, but you will need an app that supports it like Google’s Hangouts. If you receive a text, you’ll get a notification on top of the display. Tap it and the text will be read aloud – no reading them on the screen – and you then can reply with your voice. Your phone calls are handled over Bluetooth, so that you can make phone calls or send and receive messages while keeping your hands on the wheel.

Android Auto apps have a consistent design, with large, round buttons for easy touch points, similar menu structures, and powerful voice actions. The idea is that apps won't be any more distracting than they need to be (which is why user interface elements look the same from one app to another), and generally don't need more than a quick glance to be put to work.

How do you control Android Auto?

Google's in-car operating system has three methods to controlling your smartphone.

Voice commands

Google's voice commands are the easiest way to go about the menu system hands-free. Tap the microphone icon in the top right corner to make calls, get directions, reply to texts and listen to music.

Use physical buttons

Use steering wheel controls for prompting the voice command functionality. That's a lot easier than reaching over for the microphone icon on the touchscreen. Standard buttons and control knobs will also work, and relevant functions, like next and previous track, automatically pass onto Android Auto.

Use the touchscreen display

Cycling through the Android Auto menu using the touchscreen is ideal for when the car isn't in motion. Yet it's simple enough to tap directly on what you want even when you're in a bind. This is a simplified version of your Android phone.

What do you need to work Android Auto?

To use Android Auto, you’ll need a phone running Android 5.0 or higher (Lollipop, Marshmallow or Nougat) and an active data connection. You may also need to update some of your existing apps, such as Google Maps, Google Play Music, or Google Search.

To find out if your car display supports Android Auto and how to enable it, check your owner’s manual or contact your car’s manufacturer. Once enabled, connect your phone with a high quality USB cable to your car to launch Android Auto.

Best apps available on Android Auto:

Music

  • Google Play Music
  • Pandora
  • Spotify

Messaging

  • Google Hangouts
  • WhatsApp
  • Skype

Android Auto is designed to make it easier to use apps from your phone while you’re on the road. Navigate with Google Maps, listen to playlists or podcasts from your favourite apps, send messages via voice, and more. Download Android Auto from Google Play Store.

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