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Android Auto anywhere: Google's app will work in any car, plus it adds Waze support

Florence Ion, Melissa Riofrio | May 19, 2016
The standalone phone app means you won't need to buy an entire car or new stereo system to get Android Auto.

Android Auto in any car. That’s what Android users asked for, and that’s what Google will give them, along with a slew of other new features, when it updates its dashboard Android experience later this year.

You won’t need to buy a new car with Android Auto support, nor even a new stereo system with Android Auto baked in. Android Auto will be updated to run directly on any Android phone running Lollipop and up—which pretty much gives Google’s infotainment experience to anyone using a modern phone. 

Google also revealed support for the Waze navigation app in Android Auto. For developers, the company plans to make Android Auto open-source, a move that will let car manufacturers customize the system for their own dashboard controls, from radios to instrument clusters to even HVAC systems.

Android Auto on your phone

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Soon, you don’t need a new dashboard to get Android Auto in your car. Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

In an update scheduled for “later this year,” the Android Auto app will be re-tailored to run directly on smartphones (presumably cradled in a mount fixed to your windshield or dashboard). The on-phone experience will offer the same features as the original dashboard setup, including easy-to-read menu screens and access to a small slate of voice-controlled Android functions, including hands-free calling, texting, music control, and navigation. Google says it will also bring hotwording to Android Auto, so you can use the interface with “OK Google” prompts, rather than tapping on an icon to get started.

I tested Android Auto’s new features on Tuesday, and, yes, they work. The big win for Android Auto, though, will be the potential for ubiquity. Once these features go live, you can bring them with you into any car—your car, your friend’s car, your rental car, heck, even your motorcycle or bicycle. Suddenly Apple CarPlay will look like a small fry. 

Android Auto is going open source

Drowning Apple CarPlay in a sea of Android Auto is likely what Google has in mind, and it’s inviting automakers to help. The company announced that Android Auto in Android N will include support for AM/FM radio, HVAC, Bluetooth calling and media streaming, multi-channel audio, and digital instrument clusters. These additions will help car makers and other third parties incorporate the source code for native integration into the vehicle, rather than running an entirely separate operating system with Android Auto as an accessory application. If Android Auto is baked directly into cars, that might leave a little less room—and motivation—to support Apple CarPlay. 

A concept of the software will be on display at I/O inside a Maserati Ghibli. Deep inside this attention-grabbing car, Google’s tucked the modular Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Automotive platform to run Android Auto natively. The Android Auto features will run on a 15-inch, 4K display (not quite as big as the 17-incher in the Tesla Model S, in case you’re keeping score) and a 720p digital cluster. We’ll be checking out this car after the keynote, so stay tuned.


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