Android Auto update improves media browsing, adds MMS and RCS group chat support

Android Auto on a phone
Android Auto on a phone (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Android Auto is already powerful, but its latest update brings improvements to two its most-used features: media browsing and messaging.

On the media front, Android Auto is creating a new "browse" experience that immediately surfaces content as soon as you select an app. You'll be immediately presented with large touch targets to jump right into playlists, artists or podcasts, and with one tap can sort alphabetically to get what you want quicker. In many cases this removes multiple taps from the media search experience, which is critical in the car.

Google Assistant can also now bring you music search results when you ask for a song, album, artist, playlist, podcast or book — just ask, and then select from a list of results if you want something more specific. Spotify, iHeartRadio and Google Play Music have already completed their integrations with the new features (Pocket Casts seems to work already as well), but other media apps will continue to work with just the basic play/pause features as before.

The other improvement in this release comes with messaging. First off is the expansion beyond just SMS — Android Auto now fully supports both RCS and MMS messaging, so it can work with group chats in Android Messages, Hangouts and WhatsApp. And when those messages come in, Android Auto can now also give you a text preview of a message when it arrives rather than just an audio readout ... at least, while you car is stopped.

The text preview feature only works in Hangouts and WhatsApp right now, but is a welcomed addition to everyone who has been frustrated by only getting messages in audio form even when the car is stopped. Sometimes you can get far more information from the text preview of a message in a shorter amount of time than having a message read aloud. Now let's hope other messaging services get on board.

All of these changes are applicable to both the standalone app experience and the connected in-car experience, which continues to be one of the strengths of Android Auto. The update is available over the course of the next week in the Play Store.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.