Last year, Google was planning on sunsetting the on-device Android Auto experience in favor of Assistant Driving Mode, but things didn't go as planned. The replacement experience that relies on Assistant stalled and eventually Google had to give in and allow the phone Auto experience to live on either as a built-in app on many devices, or through a legacy app on others. We didn't expect to see any changes to that interface though, as development had shifted to Auto's new and standalone experience on car head units, but lo-and-behold, we just got a surprise update to the Maps interface. It's fresher and definitely better suited for landscape navigation.
The change is controlled by the Maps app and not the Auto app. With the latest Maps v10.45 (APK Mirror), and possibly a few versions earlier, you'll notice a more modern interface when you open navigation mode in Android Auto on your phone. The icons to dismiss or start navigating are different, the direction banners on the top and bottom float instead of taking the entire width of the screen, the green color is darker, and there are more rounded corners and better text alignments in a few places.
Above: Old UI with large full-width banners. Below: New UI with floating menus and banners.
However, the biggest improvement affects the landscape view, where the floating banners for directions have the most positive impact. Gone is the tiny map sandwiched between two screen-wide bars. Instead, everything is moved to the left, which leaves a lot more screen estate for the actual map.
Above: Old. Below: New.
The interface on phones is now similar, though not identical, to the latest Maps design on standalone Auto head units. I'd love to see a more advanced UI, but this will do for now. Hopefully, it's a sign that Auto's experience on phones is getting more attention and some much-needed updates. Eh, one can dream.
- Amr Al-Omari