Android Auto update makes the platform more user friendly

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Android Auto is a pretty solid connection between Android smartphones and newer cars. However, it was sorely in need of a facelift. Fortunately, Google is now rolling out the first major update for the platform in more than five years.

Interestingly, the update gives Android Auto a phone-like feel with new app icons, a better navigation bar, and a new typeface. It also features dark mode by default to save drivers’ eyes at night. There are plenty of things to love (and a few to hate) in the new update.

App Launcher

The old version of Android Auto gave users control via a series of icons along the bottom of the screen. This system was incredibly frustrating at times, especially when trying to manage music and navigation simultaneously. Thankfully, the new version features an app launcher that looks similar to a smartphone.

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Apps are now laid out in a grid of icons, allowing direct and easy access to each of them. Google apps like Calendar and News send users to the Google Assistant for voice control. While this is slightly frustrating, it does help keep things safer. Other apps like Spotify, Google Play Music, and Audible allow users to use touch input.

Of course, users will also have access to Google Assistant at all times via an icon in the navigation bar.

Improved Navigation Bar

Speaking of the navigation bar, it is now far better than the old version’s ever was. It allows users to seamlessly manage two apps at once without the hassle.

Rather than switching between panels—for example, between Spotify and Maps—users can now see their route on the full screen while a mini control bar for Spotify rests in the left side of the navigation bar. This also works vice-versa, displaying the next step of navigation in the bar while the full-screen Spotify app is open.

This is a much-needed improvement for the new version. It’s nice to see Google listening to user feedback for Android Auto with more car manufacturers making it available.

Minor Changes

While the app launcher and navigation bar are the most notable upgrades in the new version of Android Auto, there are some honorable mentions. For one, Google Maps now automatically opens when a user plugs in their smartphone.

Meanwhile, media players now display more info than before. Users can see exactly how much time is left on a track and how much has passed. While this isn’t extremely helpful for music, it is great for podcasts and audiobooks.

Finally, another button in the navigation bar allows users to hear their new notifications with one tap.

In a bit of bad news, Google has also announced it will be killing its standalone Android Auto app for users without a car display. Fortunately, it will be replaced in a future update to Google Assistant in the form of a new “Driving mode.” Though it’s a minor nuisance, it shouldn’t end up being an issue for most users in the long run.

The new design of Android Auto is refreshing. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising considering this is a long overdue update. Going forward Google will need to provide future updates on a more frequent basis. In any case, users will definitely enjoy the new, streamlined features that are now rolling out everywhere.