Android Auto is quite possibly shaping up to be the dark horse in Google's larger Android family. At I/O 2016, Google announced more new Android Auto features than it ever has before, including the much-demanded wireless mode which will finally see Android Auto freed from the tether of a USB cable (if that's something you're into).
The real story from an adoption perspective, though, wasn't really Wi-Fi mode, the standalone phone app, or Waze integration: it was a silly little tire pressure notification in a Honda Civic.
You see, to date, Android Auto's interface has had five tabs - telephony, navigation, media, home, and the mysterious "OEM" tab, which has an icon that looks like a vehicle gauge.
There were plenty of features announced at Google I/O yesterday regarding Android and some of those new things are meant for Android Auto - Google's car dashboard system. The most exciting of them is the fact that you will no longer need an Auto-enabled vehicle to be able to benefit from the simplified car-friendly interface while you're driving. You can also learn more about the features in our video, below.
In the next few months, Android Auto will get several interesting additions. First is Waze compatibility with the app running on your dashboard and keeping you in the loop of hazards ahead and potential delays and problems. Second is OK Google hotwording which will activate voice commands when you say "OK Google" instead of requiring you to press a button to start listening.
Ford is showing off the current state of its Android Auto implementation at CES, which will roll out to current and future Sync 3-equipped cars later this year. In many ways, it matches that of other auto makers where Android Auto is sort of like an app inside of their own custom interface. However, a representative at Ford's booth explained that Sync 3 has been optimized to stay out of the way when Android Auto is running by hiding its own redundant systems like the built-in navigation and phone apps. Many other in-car systems tend to prefer their own navigation and dialer if they are opened from within the custom interfaces, but Ford will automatically launch Google Maps and Auto's own dialer, regardless of which interface you're looking at.
Google faces many interesting challenges with Android Auto. It seems like a simple task to build an interface that is less messy and more enjoyable than existing in-car systems. Given the low bar set by most existing platforms, this doesn't sound very difficult. However, Google is taking advantage of more advanced technology and clever design so Auto isn't just another small iterative step forward. A teardown of the latest update shows some interesting progress on new input methods that don't require as much attention and a parking assistant feature that remembers where you left your vehicle.
Disclaimer: Teardowns are based on evidence found inside of apks (application packages) and are necessarily speculative and usually based on incomplete information.
The Honda Accord may not be a car you’re terribly familiar with if you don’t reside in North America. You may also not realize just how popular it is here. While Honda sells the Accord abroad (and also a modified Chinese-built version called the Crider in Southeast Asia), nowhere has the Accord been more successful than the US of A. This is because when the Accord was introduced for the American market in the early 1980s as an affordable, reliable, American-built Japanese sedan, it was at a time when domestically-designed and produced American sedans were, well, pretty universally... terrible.
The Android Auto companion app is generally one of those things you're probably only going to work with a couple of times before you're done setting things up, then it'll stay tucked away, never to be seen again. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't look good and be as useful as possible. An update to the Android Auto app began rolling out today and it's a near total refresh of the user interface. Granted, there's not a lot to change, but it now looks much more like the companion app for Android Wear.
One of the biggest challenges to creating good apps for Android Auto has been actually testing the experience. Many independent developers can't afford to purchase brand new cars with Auto built-in, and aftermarket head units won't fit in most recently manufactured cars without heavy modification, and most of those units aren't very good anyway. When the Auto SDK came out, it included simulators that could be used for basic testing of just the messaging and media browser interfaces, but even these weren't good substitutes for the real thing. Today, Google released the Android Auto Desktop Head Unit, a functioning implementation of the Android Auto platform that runs right on a desktop or laptop.
As the year goes on, more and more automakers are announcing vehicles with Android Auto, and Honda joined the club today with the refreshed 2016 Accord.
The new Accord will be arriving soon at American dealerships (how soon, we're not sure), and it will be among the very first cars to ship with both Android Auto and Apple Car Play here in the US. Currently, no on-sale vehicle is offered with both, and some upcoming cars won't get both until dealer-installed software updates are made available.
The 2016 Accord is the second model to use Honda's new Android-powered infotainment experience (not to be confused with Android Auto), which proves to be a vast step up from previous iterations of Honda's system, with smooth 60FPS graphics and better performance overall.
It's no secret that Google advocates developing apps with multiple form factors in mind. While not all the apps in Google's own portfolio are quite up to speed on this front, apps like the ones in Google's Play suite have done a nice job so far in supporting phones and tablets alike.
But since I/O 2014, Google's been working on more than just phones and tablets. Last year saw the introduction of Android for TVs, watches, and even cars, so now is the time for developers to start thinking about how their experiences will look and feel on those new form factors.
To that end, Google has announced a new reference sample app - a music player - that's available for developers to play with.
Certain 2015 Volkswagen cars with come equipped with Android Auto and CarPlay (Apple) support starting later this year. The option will be available in any models that come with MiB II, the second generation of the manufacturer's "modular infotainment platform," though the Golf is the only vehicle explicitly mentioned in the announcement. MirrorLink support will also come included.