Google is phasing out Android Auto app, but the alternative is pretty good


I live in the California suburbs, known for their relative inability to walk, exacerbated by the presence of rolling hills and scorching days. I rely on my car to get me and my family around, and I want as little distraction as possible while driving.

I adopted Android Auto in 2016 as my aging car’s in-dash entertainment system when Android Auto phone-only version for vehicles without infotainment system. Eventually, manufacturers like Anker began making third-party adapters like the Roav Bolt, which plug into a car outlet and stream sound through the vehicle’s speakers via Bluetooth. It was a way for me not to upgrade my car to get hands-free functionality.

But Google plans to do away with the standalone Android Auto phone app and instead turns to a more streamlined experience in the Google Maps app. It’s called Driving Assistant mode, and it’s started rolling out to some devices, according to 9to5Google. If you are using the beta version of Android 12, you should see it appear after you yell “Start Driving View” or “Let’s Drive” to the Google Assistant. Some have also reported that it shows up on Android 11 devices running the beta of Google Assistant, which you can activate through the Play Store, although I couldn’t bring it up myself.

I managed to get it to work on the Pixel 5 with the latest beta update to Android 12. There is a support page if you need help viewing it. The new UI is supposed to be available without entering a destination, but I was only able to get the new home screen the first time I asked the wizard to launch the feature, after which it ended. realized I wasn’t driving anywhere and went back to Google Maps. The lower right corner of the Maps app shows a little app drawer button like you would see on Android, and tapping on it takes you to a sort of driving launcher.

The new Driving Assistant mode is a fully revived Android app launcher for the car. (Screen capture: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

You can choose your apps from here, the same way you would browse the apps in the Android Auto launcher on cars that have it integrated into the dashboard. Every little app has an interface that fills up with quick links and playlists if it’s a media player app. There are also quick buttons to make a call, send and view messages, or browse media playlists organized for you by the assistant in apps like YouTube Music and Google Podcasts, two apps I don’t use. at all. I even marked Spotify as my default music player in the Google Assistant settings, but I don’t have access to these playlists unless I specifically access the Spotify app.

There’s no back button on the Driving Assistant mode, so if you want to move on to another task or app, you’ll have to hit the launcher and select the option that’s right for you. Or you can say the command “Hey Google”, which this feature is supposed to inspire you with, anyway. That’s why you’d buy an accessory like the Roav Bolt, which adds a microphone to your car so it can hear you say it, and why Google is moving away from the original look of Android Auto on the phone.

The Pocket Casts app in Driving Assistant mode (right) has fewer menus to navigate than the original Android Auto app (left) for the smartphone.  (Screen capture: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) The Pocket Casts app in Driving Assistant mode (right) has fewer menus to navigate than the original Android Auto app (left) for the smartphone. (Screen capture: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

The new driving assist mode isn’t perfect, but it feels like a step in the right direction. It’s much better than the initial preview I saw at Google I / O in 2019, where I saw a demonstration of a full-page interface that scrolled through each of the feature options available while driving at length. The interface is also much easier to navigate with one finger, and there are fewer menus to manage, probably why there is no longer a “back” button to drag you through menu structures. The key to a safe in-car interface is that you can glance at it to get the information you need without focusing on the road (which is why I try to avoid driving on beta software. !).

Hopefully, it will become a little easier to access the organized home screen without entering navigation mode or without the car having to recognize the movement. After all, what if I’m not driving anywhere in particular, but still want to browse my music? I can go to Driving Assistant mode to start the song, but only if I set up a destination, which I don’t always need to do.

With the Android Auto phone app heading to Google’s Graveyard soon, it’s nice to see Google trying to improve the Assistant Driving Mode. This makes it easier for those of us who don’t have Android Auto compatible cars to have features and apps optimized for safer driving.

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Deana N. Guinn

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