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 (opens in new tab).

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

  • Ok, now fix the broken navigation issues :D Ever since the LAST update, I can't use Maps or Waze... I can go 'hey navigate to tacobell' but then it always prompts for me to touch the display, which it won't ever register... The 'calibration' of the screen is miles off... yet, the navigation (back home whatever) buttons work just fine. But anything inside the 'window' doesn't work.... but again, things like music, and the home screen, work perfectly fine.
  • That's so annoying.
  • I'll bet you have a Samsung phone. This was broke in the update that contained the Oct. security patches and not fixed in the update a week or so later that came with the November patch updates. The fix is to set your phone to FHD+ from WQHD. Yeah, it sucks but it makes everything work as normal in AA. It's NOT an AA issue at all.
  • When is Google Voice going to work with Android Auto. It's amazing to me that 2 Google services still do not work together at all. When someone texts me on Google Voice I don't even see that there is a message available in Android Auto. Nothing at all.
  • I wouldn't expect it any time soon, if ever. Google has Voice completely on the back burner in maintenance mode.
  • What Google need to do is move the bottom bars to the side instead. I believe that's how it is on the phone as well.
  • I still don't see Thumbs Up playlist.
  • If you don't have a Android auto car unit, can you use it on the phone. Last time I tried it would let me use waze on the phone.