Google Assistant Driving mode is replacing Android Auto on phones — are cars next?

Android Auto Lifestyle
Android Auto Lifestyle (Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Software in automobiles that restricts phone usage while driving is a good thing — period. However, not all vehicles are compatible with Apple Car Play or Android Auto. That's what Android Auto for phone screens was for, but with it going away in favor of Google Assistant Driving mode, could that be foretelling as to what may be in the future for Android Auto proper?

Finding ways to move essential phone functions like navigation, conversations, music, and phone calls to a larger display that is more within the driver's view is far better than reaching for a smaller phone screen. Not only is the screen smaller, but so are the touchpoints. Also, using voice control through Google Assistant in a noisy vehicle is hit and miss.

Google Assistant Driving mode

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

A phone as the infotainment option in a vehicle is not a great experience for a few reasons, but it's really bad when using voice commands.

A vehicle that is correctly set up to use voice as a method of accessing various features has microphones located in very specific places so that it can best hear the driver's voice. Using a phone to do that is less than ideal. But at least the Android Auto for phones did an OK job of giving the driver a very simplified UI with large touchpoints for making changes. Google Assistant Driving mode aims to improve that.

The new app provides not only a better interface than its predecessor, but it also brings over some of the features that make Google Assistant so helpful — predictive suggestions. If you have enabled the settings to do so, Google Assistant takes what it knows about your schedule from being linked to your calendar and Gmail to help offer suggestions for traffic and travel times. I could see this being a great upgrade to the Android Auto found in vehicles.

I finally got a vehicle that supports Android Auto, and now I can't imagine not having it around — I love it even with its quirks. The Google-made infotainment software has been getting some much-needed attention in the last year or so with some new features, but better integration with Google Assistant along with an improved UI would be great.

Android Auto Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

There's nothing overly wrong with the way that Android Auto looks in its current form. I'm glad that there's finally the option to change the wallpaper, but there are still ways to improve the appearance and usability of the interface. For example, an auto-sort for most-used apps would be helpful, as would suggestions for new apps. This is something that could tie in very well with better Google Assistant integration.

Google Assistant Driving mode's suggestions for phones could create a more cohesive package with Android Auto creating an inclusive experience. Yes, Google Assistant is available in Android Auto, but it is there only as a voice assistant without the predictive features that are in the new phone app. The current relationship between the two pieces of software is still quite separate.

I would love to see Google Assistant more deeply woven into Android Auto and Google Maps.

Google Maps on Android Auto is great but not perfect, as I wrote about in my road trip tussle between Waze and Google Maps. Pulling usage info directly from what Google Assistant knows in the searches made on the smartphone that is travel related to the vehicle's display could be very helpful. Things like showing traffic and travel times, then offering alternate route options are proactive features rather than requiring me to ask for them.

Is using a phone in a dedicated driving mode better than fussing with the device while driving — yes, so long as you are using some great car accessories to properly display your phone so that you don't continuously take your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel. By moving more features to Google Assistant, those moments can be reduced even more. In addition, bringing some of the new Google Assistant Driving mode functionality to Android Auto can bring more hands on the wheel and eyes on the road time to that system as well.

Chris Wedel
Smart Home Writer
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.
  • If I could find a way to cast Alexa Car Mode to my vehicle's screen, it would be perfect. Even with the improvements made, I still can't get Android Auto or any of it's iterations to work properly. It plays the wrong song even though I ask for specifics, reads the wrong words in texts when I go back to look at them after I've reached my destination, starts and stops on its's just been a lousy app For Me and I really don't like it. Alexa Car Mode works great but I can only use it on the phone screen, not the car screen. Time will tell if this new version will be any better, but I'm not holding out much hope.
  • Try navtools for your car, if it comes with a screen, it will mirror your phone to the display.
  • Yeah, I definitely couldn't live without it any more. No just joking. But it does make stuff a lot more convenient. But it is sorely lacking one feature: sim choosing. On a dual sim phone calling someone from the onboard display does not work, if you have set the phone to "always ask which sim".
  • I’ve also had bugs with google voice. I usually try to have all calls made through the dialer go through my voice number but on Auto they sometimes silently fail and I have to open up the phone to see and dismiss the error before I can try again. Bad design, but par for the course for the brilliant but inconveniently unprofitable voice.
  • Buy an Android head unit. Look at the high quality ones from Dasaita.
  • Android Auto is abhorrent. It just doesn't work well enough to rely on. Bugs everywhere and just randomly crashes. Awful controls. Terrible interface.
  • Opinions are like... you know what. I love Android Auto and couldn't live without it, as do most of my car club friends. It's been bulletproof for me in 2021, and the improved user interface is great for driving.
  • I’m thinking your problems may be on the car side and not auto. I have occasional issues but my display usually reboots itself when there are bugs.
  • The damn thing can stop you from doing certain things if the car isn't in park.... Why Netflix and such wouldn't work in instances is beyond me.
  • You should know damn well why Netflix should never be allowed to play on your infotainment screen, and if you do t you have no business being on the road.