Android Auto Preview – Google Maps in your dashboard

While the user interface on computers, smartphones and tablets is becoming more and more beautiful, intuitive and faster, the interface on other devices often remains at a low level. An example of this is the car. In modern cars, things can often be operated via a touchscreen, but the interface is sometimes not well thought out, easy or beautiful. In addition, the integration with the driver’s telephone is often poor. Both Apple and Google are trying to find a solution for this, Apple with CarPlay and Google with Android Auto. We got a demonstration of the latter during Google I/O.

The phone does all the work

Android Auto is actually an extremely simple concept; all software runs on the user’s phone and the screen in the car is no more than an external monitor that also sends some data back to the phone via the touchscreen. In this way, music apps and navigation apps, such as Google Maps, can be used on the screen in the car.

The connection is via a USB cable, so that the phone is charged at the same time. Car manufacturers still have the option to link the buttons on the steering wheel, for example for controlling the radio, to the Android Auto system. Such functionality could have been largely achieved by using the MirrorLink standard, but Google chose not to. Android Auto is an open system, but the technology is proprietary.

For the driver’s safety, the phone is locked as long as it is connected to the car. For example, Google wants to prevent drivers from using their phone while driving. As soon as the phone realizes that it is connected to the car, the interface is adjusted accordingly. The applications that have been set up to be suitable for use while driving can then be launched from the car’s touch screen and display an interface that has been specially developed for use in the car. This means that the layout is optimized for widescreen display and that the buttons are larger, so that you can easily touch them. Additional options within an app can be accessed via a so-called hamburger menu, recognizable by the three lines at the top left.

A simplified version of Android

The Android Auto home screen is based on Google Now. Drivers are therefore shown ‘cards’ with relevant information. For example, if you recently searched for an address, a card is ready for navigation to that place. There is also always a card ready to open the most recently used music player. In addition, the interface always shows a black bar at the bottom, containing the buttons to the most frequently used functions. From left to right it concerns navigation, calling, the home screen, music and a menu button behind which car manufacturers can put their own functionality.

For example, they can choose to show usage stats and such within the Android interface, but most manufacturers will probably run Android Auto alongside their own system, otherwise the screen would be useless without a phone paired. For example, the car ‘s native interface could be used for things like radio and climate control, while Android Auto would then take care of navigation.

The software works fast, a lot faster than that of many cars. The concept is also very simple, but for a system that you have to operate while driving a car, that’s not a bad philosophy at all. The fewer buttons and options, the better. With that in mind, Google has ensured that you cannot run just any Android app. Those who had hoped that you could check your Twitter feed or Facebook with Android Auto will be disappointed. Apps will have to be certified by Google before they work in the Android Auto environment and Google says it will look closely at whether an app is not too distracting while driving.

At the moment, in addition to Google Maps, it is mainly music apps that can work with Android Auto, such as Google Play Music and Spotify. In addition, Google itself has built in functionality, such as telephony options and the option to send text messages. The latter is of course not done via an onscreen keyboard, but via voice commands. Incoming text messages can be read aloud and a response can then be dictated via speech recognition.


Android Auto seems to be a pretty simple, but effective platform. The biggest advantage of Android Auto over a car manufacturer-made system is that the software runs on the user’s phone. That means installing new apps is very easy and Google can easily make changes by simply pushing an update to the phone. In addition, a 3G connection is always available via the telephone and users have free navigation with Google Maps.

A large number of car manufacturers have already committed to support Android Auto, including Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Ford, Renault and Fiat. The biggest names that are currently missing from the list are Peugeot, Citroën and Toyota. Anyone who wants to drive a car with Android will not necessarily have to purchase a new model; Google is currently negotiating with manufacturers of aftermarket solutions about separately purchased screens that can be built into a dashboard afterwards. These, along with the first compatible cars, should be available before the end of the year.

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