The last month has been really exciting for Android Auto users. Between the addition of custom shortcuts, the return of Google Assistant routines, and interchangeable wallpapers, the features have really been rolling out. But the team isn't done yet, there are some new things planned for release this week. If you are an Auto user, you can look forward to playing voice-controlled Google Assistant games, better support for extra-wide screens, and a Privacy Screen to control how much Auto shows.
Google is always working on improving its Android apps and the operating system itself, heavily relying on public a/b tests that appear on some people's phones but not on others. But every once in a while, the company takes the time to announce some features formally, and today is another one of those days. Google is making a whole slew of known tests and a few brand-new changes official.
Android Auto ended last year by rolling out to 36 more countries, but the infotainment system has been suffering from a few bugs lately. Thankfully, Google is now rolling out an update that should fix compatibility issues with various phones, notably including the Galaxy S21 series.
Wallpapers aren't the only new thing rolling out to Android Auto users this week, Google is also turning on some handy features to simplify activities while you're driving. Users can now add custom shortcuts to the launcher to quickly call pre-selected contacts or activate Google Assistant commands. Along with this, Google Assistant routines are available again after more than two years since they mysteriously stopped working through Auto.
Just a couple months ago, Android Auto added six preset images hidden away in the code that could be used as future backgrounds. We had been hoping that this meant that full custom wallpaper support would be coming soon, but instead, Google has removed most of the previous images in favor of 12 new, more car-oriented backgrounds that suit Android Auto a lot better. When they were first discovered by 9to5Google, they weren't selectable by users, but that appears to be changing: Many people report that wallpapers are now rolling out to their cars.
Ford and Google have agreed to place Android into the automaker's vehicles starting in 2023. The partnership will also establish Google Cloud as Ford's preferred cloud service provider and establish a co-operative skunkworks team to improve consumer technology in vehicles.
For many, the hardest part of having an electric vehicle is route planning on longer trips. In-range drives aren't really an issue, but if you have to stop to charge, it can be a bit of a hassle estimating when and where to do it, and it gets more complicated the longer the trip is. A conservative estimate just wastes time, which is already at a premium with you having to wait at each pit stop to top up. But for EVs with Google Maps built-in, like the recent Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 Recharge, it's less of an issue thanks to some new tweaks rolling out now.
Samsung revealed its new Galaxy S21 phones last week, but that wasn't all the company talked about. It was also announced that Samsung's SmartThings device controls would soon be accessible through Android Auto, and now the functionality is already going live.
Google may offer quite some options for multilingual users, but there are still many hurdles when using the Assistant, Gboard, and other Google apps in two or more languages. Over the last year and a half or so, the problems have also moved over to Android Auto. Bilingual users have been reporting that the Assistant reads notifications in the wrong language, resulting in word soup and unintelligible sounds. After months of working on resolving the problem, Google has finally found a, uhm, let's call it solution: Just remove your secondary language from the Assistant.
Android may be all about customization, but Android Auto hasn't allowed much room for self-expression since its launch. That looks to be changing soon, as a recent teardown of the Android Auto app indicates that users might soon be able to choose from a selection of wallpapers to take homescreen theming to the next level.