Android Auto is fantastic with the addition of Google Assistant and wireless connectivity

In case you hadn't heard, CES 2018 is Google's platform for showing how Google Assistant can be deployed everywhere. One of the places where it makes perfect sense to have a hands-free intelligent assistant is in the car, so naturally Google added it to Android Auto. At the same time, it announced the public availability of wireless Android Auto, which was first shown off conceptually at Google I/O 2017.

Android Auto wireless

Android Auto already had a basic set of voice commands available, but with the move to Google Assistant branding you're getting feature parity with Assistant on other platforms — at least, for the features that are feasible in the car. Just start with "Hey Google" and then rattle off whatever you'd normally ask your phone or Google Home. Directions, messages, reminders, navigation-related queries and more work perfectly.

Android Auto's voice controls simply got smarter, matching your phone or Google Home.

Here at CES Google demonstrated Android Auto controlling smart home devices as well, which it sees as a great way to make a few home adjustments — like lights, thermostat, etc. — on your way to or from the house. Because it's effectively just using your phone, you don't have to do any extra setup with the IoT devices, either. Assistant's voice recognition and capabilities are so great, it's fantastic to have it in yet another place.

Google says that multi-user voice detection isn't available yet, but voice training for you is here just like on your phone so only the driver can activate the system. Obviously many cars with Android Auto built-in from the factory will have steering wheel controls for audio input as well.

Thank you Google, you finally figured out how to make wireless Android Auto happen. Two new head units from Pioneer are the first to offer it, though right now they're only being shown off as prototypes and don't have pricing or release information.

It's simple to use, and bypasses frustrating issues with cable and USB port compatibility.

Just like we saw back at Google I/O, the system is dead simple. The head unit has a Wi-Fi network that your phone connects to and has a local connection, leaving your mobile data active. After that setup, every time the car is on and your Android Auto app is opened on your phone, the two will connect automatically and launch. To my eyes the speed of the head unit connected wirelessly is indistinguishable from the USB-based version, and it has the exact same capabilities. A little toggle in the home screen interface of the head unit lets you select between multiple connected devices if your passenger happens to have Android Auto, which is neat.

While wireless can certainly have its own set of issues, it's hard to think that maintaining a simple Wi-Fi connection would create problems anywhere near the constant stream of complaints I see about the old wired system. By doing things wirelessly, you skip the frustration of having the wrong kind of cable or incompatibilities at the hardware level with customizations of phone USB ports.

Of course these head units still have a USB cable if you want to go that route and charge your phone while you drive, but for shorter trips it's clearly preferable to not have to think about plugging in. Wireless was a key missing component that makes Android Auto feel so much more integrated to your car.

Andrew Martonik

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

  • I hope the Wireless Android Auto will be retro-compatible with the "old" system... (Probably not...)
  • My guess is that it would depend almost entirely on whether or not the old systems have WiFi radios in them. I'm assuming that most don't, since that would have just been an added expense with no certain future.
  • My accord does, so fingers crossed! (But I seriously seriously doubt it)
  • Yup. The old models with Wi-Fi could theoretically do this new system as soon as the Android Auto app updates on the phone.
  • Sweet. My Sonota has WiFi connectivity.
  • No loss of audio quality in wireless vs wired?
  • Wi-Fi is high bandwidth ... and the head unit is doing the decoding. AFAIK the phone is just providing the data stream and the head unit does the other parts.
  • I just got a new Ram. I love Android Auto and wouldn't hate having to keep using USB, but if it we're possible to get a system update to enable wireless connection, that'd be amazing. I'm not sure how difficult or possible that would be though.
  • It needs new vehicle hardware, so don't expect a software update to enable this.
  • They were very muddy on that. Presumably head units that have Wi-Fi could get this. But yeah, I wouldn't necessarily count on that.
  • Hasn't Google Assistant been on Android Auto for several months now.... I've been using it in my car for months. And I'm not talking about simple voice commands. I'm talking about Broadcasting Messages, adding to calender, reading messages, I turned on my Phillips hue smart lights in my house and etc.
  • Doesn’t a WiFi connection shut down the Mobile data connection? How will I stream my music?
  • That's a good question. I'm sure (fairly sure) Google isn't dumb enough to miss that. They wouldn't even be able to retrieve traffic data if that were the case.
  • Well Android Auto wouldn't work at all without a data connection, so Google definitely did think about this ;)
  • It doesn't shut down the mobile data connection because the phone recognizes that it's joining a "local" Wi-Fi direct network with no data connection itself.
  • They both still work simultaneously when you hotspot your phone, so they're no technical limitation. There used to be limitations with CDMA networks (years ago...) that would keep WiFi from working while connected to CDMA data, but that was because they both relied on the same antenna or radio (can't remember which).
  • This is great. I must say...
    Any information on wireless Android Auto coming?
  • Any specifics on hardware requirements? I love Android Auto in my '16 civic. It has wifi and Bluetooth, very curious about the upgrades, even xda style.
  • Got a '16 Civic as well. AA is awesome.
  • You really should write about the major failing in basic functionality that Google Assistant has right now. A few months ago, Assistant lost the ability to play music on your phone. It now requires a subscription and ignores locally stored music. There are hundreds (thousands?) of posts on Google's Product Forums regarding this. Now that Assistant's ineptitude has been pushed to Android Auto, that workaround is apparently dead too, even though this functionality is most useful in the car. Google has been silent on this.
  • My Google assistant plays music music, Pandora, YouTube all open and play.
  • Google Assistant plays music fine. Google is silent because it's not true.
  • Chex313 - are you sure you have the new Assistant rolled out for Android Auto? Do you have a Play Music subscription? Are you trying to play locally stored music on your phone? I suspect you simply don't have the new assistant yet. Ask it something like "Who's the 42nd president of the United States?" to test. Now try "Play <song>" where <song> is something you have stored on your phone.
  • I just want to hear about battery life. Is the wireless connection going to shred battery on the phone while in use?
  • I can confirm the full android assistant is working on my 2017 Ford Explorer Android Auto. The expanded features are great! As a side note, the full assistant appears to be working on my android wear watch as well with an LTE connection.
  • I don't want to install android auto... Yet every time I plug my phone in the car (USB) it asks if it get load itself. How do I make it stop asking?
  • The article compares wireless connectivity to USB. Don't most folks use Bluetooth to connect a phone to a car? Why no comparison with those? What are the benefits of wifi over BT?