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Why one well-intentioned Android Auto safety feature may drive users to their old ways

Android Auto probably is one of my favorite advancements of the past year. The idea of having an car stereo that doesn't make me want to let the car gently make its way over the cliffs of Escambia Bay on the way home is, indeed, a very good thing. A user interface that doesn't suck. The best mapping in the business. Access to all of my music. Voice commands. Podcasts. We've been going through all of the apps that are available for Android Auto, and so far it's (mostly) good.

But there's one issue — aside from weird connection issues some folks in our forums have been experiencing — that still has me scratching my head. It's a safety feature, actually — and one that may well do more harm than good.

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One issue that's popped up in far too many apps is the cursed "For safety reasons, no more items can be displayed" screen. That's part of a safety feature (detailed here) that requires an action to be completed within six steps on Android Auto. That is, you can tap the screen no more than six times. (And Google says that rule is even more strict in Japan, where you get just four taps to get things done.)

That six-tap maximum is a blessing and a curse. On one hand it keeps us from futzing with the display too much and (hopefully) forces us to rely more on voice commands, which ultimately keeps our eyes on the road and our hand off the phone. Nobody should question that intent. Putting the phone down while we're driving is one of the most important changes we need to see in the mobile space.

Apps have to get creative to avoid the six-tap maximum. Or drivers could just unplug their phones and go back to their old ways.

And it's been interesting to see how app developers have handled it. Google Play Music on Android Auto at first seems fairly limited. You can't actually drill down by artist or album or category, which makes sense once you know about this six-tap maximum — you'd run into it very quickly. So, instead, you have to rely on voice commands, which works to varying degrees of success. (And that's assuming you know what you want to listen to in the first place.) I first found this tap limitation using Pocket Casts. I was subscribed to a bunch of podcasts, with the most recently added at the bottom of the list — with their episodes seven taps away, and thus out of reach. The "Unplayed episodes" category helped with that some, but that also meant glancing through all of the unplayed listings instead of being able to go straight to a specific show. But ultimately I changed my habits and unsubscribed from the shows I don't regularly listen to.

So should developers be forced to neuter their apps for fewer taps? Or users change the way they use the apps? I fear it might not matter anyway.

One of the requirements for an Android Auto experience is a Bluetooth connection for phone calls. (Android Auto uses USB for audio.) And if you've got a Bluetooth-capable car stereo, you're halfway to a decent hands-free experience in the first place. But a Bluetooth connection doesn't actually do anything to keep the phone out of your hand. Android Auto effectively (but, no, not completely) locks you out of the phone while it's in use, overlaying the "Android Auto" logo on a black screen, so long as the phone is plugged in. A standard Bluetooth connection, however, still lets you pick up and use the phone like normal.

So what's to stop a user frustrated with the six-tap limitation, lack of artist/album browsing or sub-par apps from simply unplugging from Android Auto, connecting via Bluetooth and negating the safer user interface?

The last thing Android Auto (or Apple's CarPlay, which to me is just as important) needs to do is drive drivers back to their old ways, with phone in hand. The good news is we're still in the early days, and I believe Google's going about things the right way, relying on handset software rather than in-car firmware for updates. And in any event the responsibility still lies on those of us behind the wheel.

73 Comments
  • Hmm. Almost makes me happy I waited to get Android auto. Maybe it'll be better polished by time I purchase my next vehicle. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Hahahahahahaha...???
    The hell with it.....
    Hahahahahahaha! Galaxy Note 4 {Sprint 5.1.1}
    Galaxy S III {FreedomPop 4.3}
    LG G2 {Sprint 4.4.2}
  • I just started using TuneIn Pro in my car with Android Auto just the other day. I thought I was doing something wrong when I kept getting this message. It is so aggrevating that I cant pull up my favorite stations in less than 6 clicks. AFAIK, there is no way to pull up my "favorites" list on the Pioneer 8100NEX.
  • There is no option to get to your favorites list. Tried with a Stephen King audio book. Contacted the development team and they didn't even know you couldn't do that but will "look into it" Posted via the Android Central App
  • is this somethign that can be disabled by tricking the car into thinking its parked, a la grounding the parking break wire, or hooking up a relay? been doing that for years on the older touch screen radios
  • My guess is they use GPS along with the parking wire to determine that.
  • Hate to see what happens when using Google maps and you get stuck in traffic and search for a detour.
  • with google maps, if you're not moving the limitation does not apply, you even get a keyboard to type places and address in with
  • Google maps automatically routes you around the traffic, you only need one tap to accept the reroute.
  • I'm afraid I won't be getting Android Auto until things like this are either removed or a way to trick it has been found. I am sick of car head units being Nannies. I can't tell you how much more it makes me fiddle with a way around it, or just flat out say "screw it" and grab my phone instead. And those that say that's why voice commands are there, don't have a clue. Try to voice a text to someone using your car's built in bluetooth with 75mph worth of road noise. It goes like this: Me: Text Babe
    Google Now: Texting David, which number? (we do this 4-5 times)
    Me: Text Babe
    Google Now: Texting Babe, which number?
    Me: Mobile
    Google Now: Home. What's the message? (btw, why the hell does it even let you text a number for a home land-line?)
    Me: I'll be home in 20 minutes.
    Google Now: Sending Message: "Alksdfl lkiv vr s;eroimvs." **At this point I dive for the phone to cancel the sending and just text with my fingers. Good job with helping me on my road safety. A+.
  • Sounds like your car's got the hots for Dave. You might want to keep an eye on that.
  • Does this "Babe" have a good life insurance policy on you? Sounds like it's worth their while... Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Don't know what to tell you on that. My 2015 Sonata is quiet and Android Auto makes the car that much better Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah....most people dont have new cars. In fact, the average age of cars on the road in the US is about 12 years. Which means about half of cars out there are older than that, so sound dampening is a luxury most don't have. I drive an '01 Civic, and even the best noise-cancelling BT headset fails to detect my voice on the freeway over the road noise. Manual texting or phone-to-head are my only options (other than just not using it)
  • If "Babe" is your significant other, I suggest you assign the Wife tag to her. At some point while you are not driving, set it up by saying "Ok Google, call my wife". It will ask you who your wife is in your Contacts, and you select her. So henceforth, you would simply say, "OK Google, call my wife," to dial her default phone number. Or, say "OK Google, call my wife at work," to dial her at a specific number as categorized in your contacts. It also works for father, mother, etc. Works much more reliably than names.
  • Dave's not here man, he went to get the stuff.
  • You can always kill some road noise by installing damping material especially under your carpets.
  • I'll stick with the aux cord thanks Posted From my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface pro 3
  • You are sticking with the much better way.
  • Indeed. It is a clearly better piece of tech. --- This message brought to you via the sarcasm keyboard available for download at the Google Play Store.
    LG-G2 on Lollipop.
  • Please Phil beg google to remove these limitations when the car is in park. If I pull over I shouldn't need to cheat the android auto 'lock screen' on my phone or simply unplug it.
  • then it would be too easy to bypass the whole system as most brands of radios are extremely easy to bypass the parking brake
  • Or maybe let adults make their own decisions.
  • are you being serious? Adults making shitty decisions are killing people every day while they are fucking around with their phones, instead of paying attention to the two ton missile they are driving... it why we have to make laws telling people what they cant do because when left to themselves, people tend to make some pretty bad decisions. allowing stupid adults to put their own life in danger is one thing and I'm totally ok with that, but allowing stupid adults to put my family and my life in danger is not OK... people have shown time and time again, they make will make bad decisions all the time, and sometimes, manufactured need to put safety features in place to keep the rest of us safe from the people who don't even think about what they are doing. "let the adults make their own decisions." yeah right...
  • I don't know why this is down voted, but it is true. My mother has been hit while in a crosswalk in a parking lot by someone who was texting. Thankfully they were going only 10MPH, so she just had bad back pains. Driving is a privilege. It is not a right. You are operating a 2,000 pound piece of giant metal and plastic. It can quite easily kill people. And people texting are not helping. IT CAN WAIT. The texts will still be there in an hour when you get home. I'm fine with people making their own decisions as adults. Usually, adults do the right thing. Some things, however, are not ok. Drunk driving? Not ok. People still do it, and they often end up killing innocent people. If you want to go out drinking, get a designated driver, or take public transportation, or walk. It is like that buzzfeed song. I won't get in a crash while texting or drunk driving. I'm better than those people that do. It'll never happen to me. Until it does happen to me.
  • its voted down, because every body thinks they can do what every they want to with out thought or concern for what may (and does daily) happen... "oh it wouldn't happen to me" was said by every person sitting in jail right now for manslaughter because they couldn't help themselves from doing dangerous things instead of focusing on the task of driving. we all think we are these great professional drivers and that we can easily handle driving the car, eating a burger, checking out their facebook, and responding to every text all at the same time. again, while a lot of people on here can act like a responsible adult, not every one can, and since there are so many ass hats out there that cant or wont, the rest of us need to be protected from them, and if you being limited to how many screens deep you can go is one of those ways, get over yourselves.
  • Stupid people will always find new ways to be stupid and kill people. You cant stop them and neither can Google.
  • No but Google should at least make an attempt to minimize the chance of it happening using their products... The whole piont of AA is to make a simpler safer way to access your phone while driving... Giving full access to everything is not simpler nor is it safer.
  • I have the 4100nex and haven't seen this screen yet. So far AA does what I need it to do. I do have the parking brake workaround, but I don't know if it would affect this limit. Posted via the Android Central App
  • That's how I feel. If I can send a quick text to my wife and make a call all with voice (which works perfectly) what else do I need it to do? My attention should be on the road and not looking at a screen Posted via the Android Central App
  • What about with a passenger? Our stupid van pulls this crap even if there's another person in the passenger seat. Let me be an adult and use my own car, please. The driver isn't distracted
  • You may in fact be an adult. However, most of us don't always act like one. So you need to blame humanity, not Google Posted via the Android Central App
  • until you can find a way to make the radio know that it is not the driver touching the screen, then there is no way thats going to happen, sure your van may have a passenger, but what about the thousands of work vans out there that only usually ever have one person in the car? how do you supposed that the radio should know that? just because there is a body in that other seat, doesnt' mean that they are the ones pressing the buttons... go ahead, you CAN use your own car, but you don't need to be operating a computer at the same time.
  • You may like the interface. I think it's an oversimplified waste. Google maps is a joke. Most of the screen is taken up by the directions on the left and the stupid top and bottom bars. Every time I have used it I wound up unplugging and just using it on my phone. Leaving me feel like I wasted $1000 on this head unit. The oem unit on our 2015 enclave blows android auto completely away. Navigation, the Bluetooth source, even text messaging. It is all superior in every way to what Google has failed to do with android auto. I will likely be pulling the pioneer nex out of my car and going back to using my phone in a proclip mount. It's far easier and more fulfilling to use than android auto. I understand now why many car manufacturers are so against implementing this nonsense into their cars.
  • Oversimplification is a good thing, in my opinion. I find texting works perfect for me. Recognizes everything I say with ease and I never have to repeat myself. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Simplification is good. Not under, not over, but the right amount. It sounds like they try to overdo it, which helps no one.
  • These kind of things drive me crazy. Waze for example, has this thing that doesn't let you type in if you're driving. My typically experience goes like this: Me: I think I need to add a stop to my route for gas or whatever (taps on search)
    Waze: Ooops! This is disabled since the car is moving (prompts to ask me to cancel or if I'm the passenger)
    Me: (presses Passenger)
    Me: (presses search box again to bring up keyboard)
    Me: (types in search criteria) That's like an extra 3 button presses....when it only needed to be one. It doesn't need to babysit me. I know texting/typing into the search box isn't a good thing while I'm driving, but I'm going to do it anyways. Quit making it harder for me.
  • "I know texting/typing into the search box isn't a good thing while I'm driving, but I'm going to do it anyways." You're a terrible person, then? Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • No, they're a realist. Posted via the Android Central App
  • When they kill someone, what will they be? --- This message brought to you via the sarcasm keyboard available for download at the Google Play Store.
    LG-G2 on Lollipop.
  • Pretty much this. Literally everything works with voice search, and if it doesn't... Don't use it. Keep your eyes on the road, folks... Not that hard Posted via the Android Central App
  • unfortunately just another statistic... yet another case of "I'm going to do it any way because it will never happen to me"...until it does.
    hopefully their life will be the only one lost that time.
  • I will not adopt Android Auto until these safety "features" can be disabled or removed entirely.
  • Sounds like you'll never be using Android Auto Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't understand why Google is obsessed with Voice Search as manifested in the current form of Android Auto, I mean, after six presses, that's LITERALLY the only way to do anything on AA. It's not like voice recognition is fast, intuitive, and seamless as it should be, it's slow as molasses and inaccurate as Hell as it is. Until AA or for that matter, Carplay, stops giving a free pass to Voice commands (as it is now, it's still in "Toddler" stage, it has a lot to learn about natural conversations and non-standard accents recognition,) proprietary tech from the Jalops will still be King...
  • Does it also require data to work? What if I'm on a section of the highway that doesn't even have 2G? Does voice fail then? (Guessing so, as Google fails at understanding internet isn't ubiquitous.) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'll have to agree here. Not using AA, just trying to use Google Now to do something on my phone doesn't work when the signal isn't 100% 4G. Something that doesn't require the network, like finding one of my contact's address.
  • Android Auto could be a wonderful system. But for now its 50% frustrating mess, based on idiotic assumptions. Google's bizarre motivations are the real problem here. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Is it really a 6 tap limit? Per trip? What if its a 2 hour trip? Brilliant idea, make it a 6 tap limit per minute or 2 minutes or whatever. There, problem solved.
  • it's essentially 6 taps into the app, it's not a hard lockout, you just cant browse further than 6 taps into anything, be it scrolling, a drill down into menus, etc. if you click next 6 times it won't lock you out of clicking next again.
  • Just bought a 2016 and purposefully had to get a lower trim model to avoid wasting my money on Android Auto (I hate all navigation systems equally though). If I can enter and start the car without messing with keys, I don't want to connect my phone either, it's a huge waste of time when I'm in a hurry and my phone is at the bottom of my bag. I use the app Trigger to start playing music as soon as bluetooth connects which takes zero action from me (and saves my USB port from unnecessary abuse). If I need something without touching I can always call out OK GOOGLE, but most importantly, I can touch the damn screen as much as I please!
  • You can't set up a pocket casts playlist before you get into the car? --- This message brought to you via the sarcasm keyboard available for download at the Google Play Store.
    LG-G2 on Lollipop.
  • In a long trip were my passenger (wife) is controlling things, is there a way to override this feature especially if the driver is not getting distracted? I understand if I'm alone but maybe a setting that can understand that the passenger air bag is activated as proof that there is a passenger is in the car.
  • the problem is that even of the car knows there is a body in the passenger seat by the weight sensor, there is no way for the aftermarket radio to "see" that information... maybe after the OEMs start releasing them they in therory could read it off of the CAN BUS but there is no way to tell which person is interacting with it. honestly, if there is a real person sitting in the passenger seat, unplug the phone, switch it into BT audio, and let her control the phone like a normal person would... other wise, there is no way for the radio to know which one of the front seat occupants in touching the screen. you shouldn't just disable all the safety features because there is another person that MAY use it.
  • I get that, well said. I would figure that the built in radio's that come stock could easily ran through the CAN BUS and ran to understand. Safety Features aside this would include override if the parking break is on or in park. Others also said that long trips could be a concern or also in no internet signal. My full time job is in the middle of nowhere and service is hit and miss so the voice command would not work...
    For the "if there is a real person sitting in the passenger seat" to unplug it defeats the purpose especially if you are connected for google maps or whatever else it needs to be connected for... I agree that all the safety features shouldn't be deactivated but I expect AA to be implemented better to understand.
  • "I expect AA to be implemented better to understand." ya got to give it a little time, we are still into the very first generation of these things, they will get better over time. google still has a lot to learn, and I'm sure has a few tricks left up their sleeves. but I got to say, it is a big improvement over what came before it! hopefully, google will figure out what works and what doesn't and in a year or two, this really should be something great... most products get a lot better over time, even the first iPhone (the "god" of music devices) didn't support BT Audio (AD2P) when it first came out! and that really seemed like a no brainier!
  • I love the idea in theory, but the problem will always be with the end user. No matter how simple you make the system, not everyone will want or know how to use it. Proof? How many people on the road today with excellent factory Bluetooth systems and people are still talking on their phones the old fashion way. (and letting their speed drop 15 mph on the highway). I love my Uconnect and being able to verbally text, but that 25 year old lady who just blew a red light texting with the same Uconnect, not only does she not realize she blew a red light, but has no clue how to use the system in her car. (I stopped her because she almost hit me and didn't even realize it) Posted via the Android Central App
  • "One of the requirements for an Android Auto experience is a Bluetooth connection for phone calls. (Android Auto uses USB for audio.) And if you've got a Bluetooth-capable car stereo, you're halfway to a decent hands-free experience in the first place. But a Bluetooth connection doesn't actually do anything to keep the phone out of your hand. Android Auto effectively (but, no, not completely) locks you out of the phone while it's in use, overlaying the "Android Auto" logo on a black screen, so long as the phone is plugged in. A standard Bluetooth connection, however, still lets you pick up and use the phone like normal." I've read this paragraph several times and it's still confusing to me. So does this mean that Android Auto uses only USB for audio, and if you connect through a USB cable it blocks you out of the phone by showing you an Android Auto logo on a black screen?
  • Does Android allow you to respond to texts using car Bluetooth? My Lumia and Prius did but my Note 5 and AT&T seem to have added "Drive Mode" that simply auto answers incoming texts and blocks your ability to text above a certain speed. If I can make a hands free call while driving I should be able to reply to texts as well.
  • I understand the safety and so on - no problem there. What I find frustrating with the current systems in cars is that, they implement safety measures, but neglect the point you may have a passenger. the passenger cannot use the system as well - that is frustrating,.. For example Toyota will not let you dial a keypad to call somebody - fine, but my passages cannot call anybody either and they aren't driving. Hope that makes sense -
  • Don't beg Google to remove it, beg developers to please think through their Android Auto interfaces. It absolutely should not take 6 taps to drill down into an artist.
  • what if the artists name starts with a W or T? you'll never be able to scroll down that far. they need to incorporate something like the jump lists that carplay uses so you can get to a specific letter much faster
  • On other words, exactly what s/he said, the developer should program around the limit... Posted via the Android Central App
  • This sounds very annoying. I think I'd rather continue using my car's built-in system, which is also somewhat annoying. The MyLincoln app is outstanding, though.
  • Speaking with experience as an engineer in the Automotive space, this isn't just a "Google thing", but rather a requirement enforced on all infotainment solutions. There is a requirement from most governments that limit either the number of physical interactions (clicks, swipes, etc.) or the time it takes to complete any action while driving (i.e. 6 seconds). In some countries it's 5 or 6 seconds, others use clicks instead. The idea is that the drivers interaction with the infotainment system should be limited, in order to ensure they're attention remains on the road as much as possible. What really needs to happen is that the developers should be required to ensure all actions can be completed within the given parameters (either a limited number of clicks, or a set period of time), rather than displaying a pop-up stating the user has hit the "limit". Frankly, I find this kind of interface very disappointing. How many people will sit tinkering with the system, trying to force it to work the way they expect it to? My thoughts on this is that Google has taken the "easier" route here, by building in a user-facing notification, rather than testing the apps thoroughly to ensure they meet regulatory requirements. The reason I don't like this is because the user doesn't need to know there's a limit on time or interactions. The developer needs to be required to adhere to these regulations, prior to being publicly available in the car (Something which other solutions enforce, i.e. Apple's CarPlay).
  • I hate nanny features. The volume warning is also annoying as hell.
  • Here's a random thought that I haven't seen elsewhere. What if after six taps the system has a forced pause of 30 seconds rather than locking one out altogether? The screen could display "look at road for next 30 seconds" or some such verbiage before timing out and allowing further inputs. It could resume where it left off and allow another six inputs. Yes, the developers could do better, and yes none of us like the nanny state, and no this doesn't address the issue of allowing passengers to use the system unimpeded. But, it's a simple and quick and easily implemented workaround that should address the distracted driver concern, direct drivers to return their attention to the road until another appropriate moment presents itself, and perhaps it will also comply with statutory restrictions that limit time with the interface. Thoughts?
  • Right on... I like it!!!!! defeats the purpose of the passenger doing it all without issues. but at least its a better resolution then these restrictions.
  • This is the kind of restriction which will permanently drive me away from Android Auto. Instead I'll just use my phone that doesn't have such ridiculous restrictions. In the future I'll avoid buying any car with Android Auto in it.
  • Users going back to their old way, regardless of intent, is basically a confirmation of UI fail. People tend to stick to interfaces and workflows that actually work.
  • How safe is it for me to have to pull my phone out of my glovebox, find the app I need to work with, and click like crazy to find the playlist I want to hear? Dropping my phone occasionally... Bending over to pick it up. Starting the process over again. ??? Their 6 click rule is a serious safety hazard. And just plain bad (1999) UX.
  • Google's job is not to make the phone inaccessible, or cause frustration while driving. The goal should be to remove my need to use my phone and remove my "need" to look at any device for more than a second. People that currently text while driving aren't going to use a device that will disable their phone.. so don't bother building it with them in mind. I don't have AA yet. But with my BT car receiver, I rarely touch my phone. I look at the map on the phone, use voice commands, and select recent destinations only. I use the receiver's controls to place calls and play audio content. The easier they make that, the safer I will be. Rather than limit drill-down in use. AA app standards should limit drill-down in design. This way designers will have to think of simpler ways to expose options and AA will never have to give the user the middle finger. If you make AA easy enough to use with sufficient features (WITHOUT LOCKOUTS) people will naturally spend more time with their eyes on the road. All but the worst text fiends will be safer. At the end of the day, it's up to people to be safer. Google, help us by making it more convenient to be safe.
  • Apple's CarPlay actually doesn't have the touch limitation surprisingly.