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Android Auto 2
Android Auto 2 (Image credit: Android Central)

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do while behind the wheel. It puts you and everyone else on the road at risk, and while it should go without saying, it is obviously something we don't condone.

That said, there are times when you need to stay connected, even when in your car. Whether you're following turn-by-turn navigation, making a hands-free phone call, or controlling your music while on a long road trip, having a device to do all of these things is a must.

Google is aware of that, and that's why it created Android Auto. Android Auto is software that's available on your phone and in your car, and it gives you a way to do all of the things mentioned above as safely as possible. Ready to learn more? Keep on reading!

Android Auto Explainer

Android Auto running on a phone

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Android Auto launched in March 2015 as a special Android interface designed for use in your car.

There are three core functions that make up Android Auto: turn-by-turn navigation, phone call support, and audio playback. You can run Android Auto directly on your phone's display, or if you have a supported car, on its infotainment system (more on this below).

You'll need the Android Auto app to get things started, which you can download for free from the Google Play Store. If your phone is running Android 10 or later, Android Auto is already built right into your phone and doesn't need to be downloaded.

Android Auto On your phone

Android Auto on a phone

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

There are technically three ways to use Android Auto directly on your phone, and they largely depend on which version of Android you're running on your phone. If you're using a phone or tablet running Android 6.0 and up to 9.0, you can just open the Android Auto app, where the car-friendly UI is ready to use right then and there.

This app is the original version Google released to run natively on phone and tablet screens. It's fairly easy to navigate, with a home screen showing recommended locations to drive to, any music, podcast, or audiobook currently playing, and call/text notifications as they come in. This card-based layout utilizes button shortcuts along the bottom or side to get to navigation, phone, and media apps, along with a home button for getting back to your home page.

Tap the one of the shortcuts twice to see a list of all available apps under that section (like Spotify and Pocket Casts). You'll also find a menu icon in the upper-left corner for adjusting your Android Auto settings, along with a microphone for accessing the Google Assistant.

Source: Android Central

For Android 10 and 11, there is a separate app on Google Play called Android Auto for Phone Screens. It essentially emulates the original Android Auto app for previous versions, and made as a stop-gap for devices on Android 10 and 11 until Google could launch its Google Assistant Driving Mode integration.

That ultimately came with Android 12. Google phased out the previous interface and replaced it with a new look that flows more seamlessly in that it's built-in to the operating system. Driving Mode automatically launches once your phone connects to your car's Bluetooth, though you do need to enable it to do so in the settings because it initially defaults to doing nothing. Google is also moving to add a shortcut for the home screen. It does feel somewhat unfinished, though, and mainly because you don't have the same access to the all the apps. Waze is one of the biggest examples, where you can't really launch it within Driving Mode — at least not yet.

The best part about running Android Auto on your phone is that it brings a safe, distraction-free interface to your car regardless of its make and model. Just grab a car mount so you can prop up your phone hands-free, run the Android Auto app, and you're ready to ride.

Android Auto In your car

Android Auto 2019 car UI

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Alternatively, you can run Android Auto on your car's infotainment system. You do need to drive a supported make/model that integrates the platform, or a compatible third-party head unit. Either option helps integrate the UI more seamlessly with your car.

Assuming your car does support it, running Android Auto is pretty simple. When you first connect to the car's infotainment system or head unit, a prompt will pop up on your phone to begin the pairing process. You may also see a similar prompt on the head unit screen as well. On older Android devices, you may need to open the Android app on your phone first, then plug in a USB cable between your phone and the infotainment system to start Android Auto on your car's display. Newer vehicles, including head units from JVC, Kentwood, and Pioneer, are increasingly supporting wireless connectivity, but if that's not an option, you can always plug in through a wired setup.

It took a long time for Google to actually make it available to users, but that finally changed in November 2020 with a staggered rollout in the United States. By April 2021, Google had started rolling it out to some other countries in English, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, and India. If you live in the U.S. and have your device set to English, you can run Driving Mode within Google Maps when your phone runs Android 9.0 or later and has at least 4GB of RAM.

Google Assistant Driving Mode

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

You can also start things up by opening Google Maps, tap your profile icon on the top right, and choose "Settings." From there, select "Navigation" and then "Assistant settings," where Driving Mode should appear right away. If you don't see it, double check that you're running the right Android version.

Once you get Android Auto up and running, you'll notice that the user interface looks different than the original phone version. Google revamped the UI in May 2019, and if you ask us, it's the best way to use Android Auto. It's easier to navigate, there's a legit app drawer for seeing all of your available apps in one place, and you can control the entire UI using your car's physical knobs/buttons if you never want to use its touchscreen.

Android Auto Google Assistant

Google Assistant on Android Auto

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

We mentioned it above, but it's worth calling out again — Android Auto gives you quick and easy access to the Google Assistant.

Whether you're using Android Auto on your phone or in the car, tap the microphone button to access Google's digital helper instantly. You can use the Assistant for just about anything, such as asking about the weather, sending a text, playing a specific song, and more. You could ask it for the closest gas stations or where there might be a good place to grab a bite nearby.

The Assistant proves incredibly useful outside of Android Auto, yet feels especially at home in a setting where you can't afford to be doing something else with your hands. Whether you tap the microphone icon or just say "Hey Google" for truly hands-free access, it's an essential addition that makes the Android Auto experience that much better and safer.

Android Auto App support

Android Auto app list

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Over the years, Google's done a great job at making sure Android Auto is backed by support for just about every major app you could want in the car.

We won't list off every single one, but some of the highlights include:

  • Google Maps
  • Waze
  • Spotify
  • YouTube Music
  • Amazon Music
  • Apple Music
  • Tidal
  • Pandora
  • iHeartRadio
  • Deezer
  • NPR One
  • Audible
  • Audiobooks.com
  • Pocket Casts
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Signal
  • Telegram
  • WhatsApp
  • Skype

Android Auto Android Automotive

Android Automotive Home Screen

Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

If you haven't heard (or maybe you have), there is a different platform called Android Automotive. This is a wholly separate platform that runs natively within select vehicles, meaning it's installed in the car's infotainment system and doesn't really need your phone to run anything. The apps that run on it would require to sign in directly through the car's own head unit. For instance, you sign in to your Spotify account, and your profile appears there — again, without your phone being part of the equation. The only time it might be in that case is if you need to use your phone's data to stream content and route phone calls.

It's not clear if or when Google will replace Android Auto with Android Automotive, but for the time being, the two will probably work in tandem for the foreseeable future. The platform looks to be a big part of Google's plans for the automotive space, but Android Auto remains the most ubiquitous choice for Android users.

Ted Kritsonis
Ted Kritsonis

Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.

8 Comments
  • I am f tired of Google and its Android Auto. It is going to be the single reason why I will switch back to iOS. With every update Google releases to either Android 10 or Android Auto, it manages to ruin a perfectly functionning feature or completely wreck it. With my 8 months of Android usage Google managed to make Android Auto something that does no more by now than giving an "Android Auto has crashed" message on my phone and "Could not establish connection" on my car screen. It continuously degraded functionality by removing Waze features, falling back to an ugly interface, ruining language recognition, then removing my locale completely, messing up volume control, disabling assistant functionality, and now would not even start up. Same car, same phone all along. When searching for solution to any of the issues I find everywhere that Google is aware of the issues, some that date back as far as last July (11 months!!!) and had been unable to fix them. "Thank you" Google!
  • Interesting. I've used Android Auto for about 1.5 years now. Been through multiple updates and have had no issues on three different phones now. I wonder if the issues are device specific?
  • Could be. For the same brand and model set of devices it is broken in different ways and is not limited to a single brand or model. Either way, it comes down to the same result. iOS behaves reliably in the end. Whatever it comes down to, the biggest issue is related to Google not supporting locales properly in Android Auto. Things work just fine when the devices are not linked to the car via Android Auto, used only as a standalone navigation station wobbling around on your phone stand.
  • Still no split screen capabilities makes Android Auto SUCK ASS.
    This is a pretty basic feature even most factory interfaces have.
    Let me see my Spotify and Waze at the same time, stop making me switch back and fourth while I'm driving!!!!
  • I've been trying to figure this out. I've had rental cars where my music controls show at the bottom of the screen when using Google Maps; and yet my 2021 model car can't seem to do it. I don't know why that is.
  • Amazon Music does not work on Android Auto and seems to be a common complaint. Everything else has worked well.
  • Android Auto: Everything you need to know!
    Still sucks after almost two years of using it. Every time I get in the car, it's a different glitch and I have Android Auto built into my 2021 which I also had in my 2019. Amazon Music goes missing, it doesn't connect, the phone disappears from the bluetooth connection or from the plugged in connection, I open an app and it just sits there or doesn't even open, Sirius through Android Auto is a joke...it's not the phone, not the car, it's the app. If the developers would figure out a way to mirror Alexa to the screen in the car instead of just on the phone, that would be the perfect set up.
  • Amazon Music does not work Android Auto. You can not pick it as a default music app or even a supported music app. I just cancelled my one year Amazon Music HD subscription because it would not work with Android; if you wanted voice integration which is a good thing in a car. Luckily, Amazon refunded my $79.00 a few days back. So back to Spotify and it's inferior sound quality. Also, read one (1) star reviews. I have a Sony XAV-AV5000 head unit. It cost $400.00. It has always had wired connection problems. When you open up the manual, it just might as well "choose your USB cable wisely or else **** won't work". It does sort of say that in a much nicer, but no less distressing way. It has bluetooth but can use bluetooth to talk to my phone with AA. Seriously, if you need an Android head unit either:
    1) Spend over $800.00
    2) Buy a more affordable unit, but make sure it can do Android Auto wirelessly with Bluetooth OR it has a front mounted USB receptacle.
    3) Buy a car with it native. I just rented a 2021 Jetta for two weeks and it was the most flawless mobile media experience ever. I really wish we could see who the chip suppliers and memory suppliers are in out head units like our phones. I really think everyone uses the cheapest Allwinner or Rock chipset possible.