Hands-on with Google Assistant Driving mode, which is replacing Android Auto on phones

Google Assistant Driving Mode
Google Assistant Driving Mode (Image credit: Android Central)

We've seen "car mode" on Android change almost as often as messaging apps on Android over the last couple of years, but it seems fairly confident about this new iteration. Briefly announced during the I/O keynote as Google Assistant Driving Mode, this new UI for how you handle things in the car is pretty different from the Android Auto app mode we currently have. Which is on purpose, because eventually that app-only mode for Android Auto is going to go away and this will be the dominant UI available in the car.

Here's a quick look at how it works.

As the name suggests, everything here starts in Google Assistant. You can either say "Hey Google, let's drive" or connect to your car Bluetooth or even just turn on GPS awareness and start driving. Through any of these launch methods, the visually pleasing launch pictured above will fire up and you'll be in Driving Mode. And yes, while it's not available in the early demo we got, there will be a Dark Mode.

In keeping with Google's new focus on being a company that helps you get stuff done, Assistant Driving Mode is all about suggestions. If you have something in the calendar coming up, this mode will suggest navigation to that event. If you regularly drive to and from work at specific times, you'll see suggestions and traffic guidance. If you've recently looked up gas stations or stores in the area, expect a suggestion to appear. Recent or favorite contacts, places you frequently visit, the list goes on. Each of these things exist in separate sections you can easily scroll through, with great big buttons and large text to make it easy to interact with. This also interacts with the rest of Google Assistant, which means if you've started a playlist or a podcast or an audiobook on a Next Hub or your phone, there will be suggestions here to pick up where you left off.

Google hasn't provided a timeline for when this is going to replace the Android Auto app mode, but it's coming.

Notifications are the big standout feature here, in my opinion. Google Assistant Driving Mode handles specific notifications way better than Android Auto, making it possible to glance at incoming text messages and have them both read to you and speak responses much more seamlessly than the current UI. Incoming calls work in the same way you can see them without a ton of interruptions and use your voice instead of your presumably busy fingers. Navigation has a nice UI to it as well, allowing you to return to the Assistant view without losing your turn-by-turn directions since it just tucks away up into the top of the UI.

Google hasn't provided a timeline for when this is going to replace the Android Auto app mode, but it's coming. Google feels this is an all-around better approach for folks who don't have a full head unit in the car, and of course, wants more people using Assistant for everything. Expect Assistant Driving Mode to start making its way to phones by the end of the summer.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

15 Comments
  • So there wont be an icon I can press on the home screen to launch this? I don't really like using voice commands in front of people, and I don't want to wait until I start driving for this screen to show up.
    Also, I think you mean Android Auto, not Android Audio.
  • I think we'll see Google Assistant icons soon that will launch this and other common functions like weather
  • Not trolling here, but have your seen any reports on this? If this is true, then it softens the blue of Assistant taking over this function. One of huge gripes with this change is having to remember voice commands; it's nearly impossible to keep track.
  • I would think the the Google Driving Mode widget would launch this, but only time will tell.
  • I've been contemplating buying a new car that Android Auto is an optional upgrade (Mazda MX-5 RF). Perhaps I should save the approx. $400 upgrade till later.
  • Android auto on a car head unit works pretty darned well - nothing like the AA experience on the phone only. There are some glitches with voice replying to messages sometimes, but other than that the assistant controls almost everything on the head unit without issue
  • The article is a little misleading. Android Auto will still be available in the car, in fact it's getting a huge face lift on all currently enabled Android Auto vehicles.
  • Grrrrr. I know I'm a dinosaur, but I never use the darn assistant. I'd uninstall it if I could. All I want to do is use the maps and listen to music. I NEVER talk on the phone in the car or text, it'll wait till I'm out of the car... Android Auto needs some spit and polish, but doesn't work all that bad.
  • Guess you're not the only dinosaur here then. I would uninstall it as well. I can never get it to do what I want. Something as simple as asking it to play a song I want to hear, it will pick the one with the same name I've never heard rather than one that's in three of my playlists and that I've listened to 20 times. I also don't like talking to my phone. This blows.
  • I don't know what's wrong with your assistant, but it works perfectly fine for me.
  • It will be getting a new coat of paint soon. Was announced during Google I/O this week. It will not be the assistant version described here.
  • I hope they update it so you can get traffic alerts and speed trap alerts just by driving. Right now, you seem to only get it if you select a destination and navigate to it. I just want to open maps and drive. Not to always have to have a destination entered.
  • Waze, which is also Google but somehow less and more at the same time, does that.
  • Google's speech recognition is getting too good to avoid using it just because it feels funny to do so.
  • I just hope it launches in landscape. I don't use my phone in portrait when I drive. Also will the screen stay on, like my Android auto does. If it doesn't, I'll be turning this feature off.