Google is nothing if not technically egalitarian. Having successfully launched Android Auto, software that syncs Android-running smartphones with automakers’ in-car displays so that certain apps can be used while driving via the familiar Android interface, Google has turned its automotive attention to phones themselves. As in, Android Auto is now available for phones used in all cars, not just the more than 200 car models globally that offer connectivity.
Confused? We understand. That’s because, in order to use Android Auto in a vehicle, one must download the attendant Android Auto app for the Android smartphone first; the system activates once the phone is plugged into a compatible car’s USB port, mirroring a simplified version of the phone’s app menu on the car’s display. Google’s latest Android Auto announcement doesn’t change that, although the company cleverly spun the news to say Android Auto is now available “in every car.”
What it really does is allow the app to run on the phone using the same simplified Android interface that appears on dashboard displays. Why? So that drivers of older or incompatible cars—those not capable of connecting with Android Auto, perhaps without an in-dash screen at all—will have the option of sticking the phone into a mount, firing up Android Auto, and pretending they have a newer car with a car-optimized, internet-connected touchscreen infotainment setup. Except that, instead of tapping away at a large-ish built-in touchscreen, these users will be tap-tapping at their phones. Ideally not too much, since, you know, they’re driving, but that’s where the app’s simplified menu structure comes in. Besides, the base-level screens in some cars offering Android Auto are smaller than some of the latest phones, anyway.
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The new, on-phone Android Auto feature is unlocked using a software update for the app (for those who already have it); it will be included with the app going forward. The only hitch is that users must be running phones with Android 5.0 or later. Google also promises that enhanced voice-control functionality for the app’s navigation, music, and messaging shortcuts is coming, and it will rely on the same “Okay, Google” command structure familiar to recent Android phone adoptees. Oh, and if you’re interested in this Android Auto iteration, keep in mind that it is free.