Android Auto has experienced a major shift over the past few months. At I/O, Google announced Assistant Driving Mode and a spokesperson confirmed that this new experience would replace the Auto app's phone interface. Additional signs pointed to the demise of the standalone mode on phones, like the full Auto redesign that only rolled out for head units and the fact that Auto became a built-in feature with Android Q, not requiring an app. We were bracing ourselves for never being able to use Auto on our phone displays, but a new statement from Google brings us a little bit of hope.
On its support pages, Google explains that Auto is now built into Android 10 and doesn't need an app. You just connect your device to the car and it should work. But then it adds:
In the coming weeks, we'll be publishing a separate app called “Android Auto for Phone Screens” in the Play Store. You can download this app to continue using the phone screen version of Android Auto. More information is coming soon.
The phrasing is vague and can be interpreted in various manners:
- The app might be nothing but a simple shortcut to Assistant's upcoming Driving Mode, the same way Google Podcasts is a shortcut to podcast functionality inside the regular Google app. However, the words "phone screen version of Android Auto" contradict that, unless we don't want to be pedantic and can accept that both interfaces are equal.
- The app might be a legacy version of Auto, with the same phone interface we know. It could be limited to older phones or it could also work on all, including devices running Android 10 and those that will receive Assistant's Driving Mode. Functionality may be restricted and it may evolve differently from Auto on head units.
- The app might be a new one and could provide the same redesigned UI that just launched in cars, except everything runs on your phone's screen. It could be updated in parallel to that so it always provides a similar experience.
We're hoping it's the third possibility, but we won't know for sure until Google shares more information "soon," like it promised. Until then, all we can do is speculate.
Google has confirmed to The Verge that this app will only be a stopgap solution. Auto has successfully moved to a car-only experience built into Android 10, and Assistant Driving mode was supposed to take over the driving experience on phones. However, development on that is taking longer than expected. Its release should have been imminent, but there's no projected date anymore.
Drivers who are used to Auto on their phones won't have a way of accessing it on some Android 10 devices — or on other phones that may lose it for other reasons. To fill the gap until Assistant Driving Mode becomes available, Google is releasing this app. It should be the same interface we're used to, but it won't be long for this world. Once Driving Mode is widely rolled out in Assistant, the app will cease to exist. For once, we know from the get-go where we stand in regards to the shelf-life of a Google product.