Google Is Ditching Its Only Attempt at Building an Android Auto for Phones Replacement

Google getting ready for the driving mode retirement 17 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/AndroidPolice
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Google is known as a company that seems to enjoy killing off products, and this month, it continues the party with another shutdown.
The driving mode bundled with Google Maps will go dark sometime in February, with the company now displaying notifications within the app to let users know about the change.

Here's everything you need to know about the driving mode going away and how Google Maps will handle the driving experience moving forward.

Android Auto for phones was a fantastic app that Google decided to drop specifically to introduce the driving mode. Launched in 2019 to reproduce the Android Auto experience in a car without a compatible infotainment system, Android Auto for phones turned the mobile device into your car's dashboard.

The application sported the familiar Android Auto interface, with support for apps running on the smartphone like the fully featured experience.

Android Auto for phones
Photo: Google
Google discontinued Android Auto for phones to focus entirely on Google Maps. However, the driving mode wasn't received very well, with users criticizing the lack of features and the exclusive Google Maps integration (which blocked them from using other navigation apps).

Google never seemed very committed to the driving mode. The first step towards the driving mode's potential demise occurred in 2022 when the search giant removed the Dashboard mode. Bundled with the driving mode, the Dashboard allowed users to access essential apps and actions with one tap, including music playback, phone calls, and messages. The layout was divided into widgets, each assigned to a certain app or task. A search box at the top of the screen allowed users to quickly search for a destination configured as the address to navigate in Google Maps.

Google dropped the Dashboard and replaced it with a navigation bar at the bottom, offering one-tap access to music playback controls, Google Assistant, and other options. The simplified approach was still exclusively focused on Google Maps, so users couldn't enable it with other navigation apps, such as Waze.

Driving mode dashboard view
Photo: Google
Google is now ready to move to the next step of its planned driving mode retirement.

We've known for a while that the driving mode interface was going away in early 2024, but the company has now started showing banners in the app to let users know that a new change is on the radar.

"This view is going away in February," the banner reads, though it doesn't include additional details about the date. One report claims the target date for the driving mode retirement is February 7, but some users on reddit claim the feature was removed from their devices a few weeks ago. The process could take place in stages, and Google might have already removed the driving mode from devices where it was barely used.

Driving mode dashboard view
Photo: Google
The notification doesn't include too many specifics, so it's impossible to decipher Google's long-term strategy for how Google Maps will handle the driving experience on the mobile device. The search company can always turn to a basic approach, letting Google Maps offer turn-by-turn guidance in the main UI without additional controls, but it looks like the plan is to retain at least part of the driving mode options in the navigation app.

For example, Google Maps could still offer a basic driving mode, only offering simple options like music playback controls on top of the main navigation UI. Google already integrated this experience in Waze, where media controls are available in the navigation UI when users connect a streaming service (such as YouTube Music or Spotify) with the app. Google could do the same with Google Maps while also keeping Google Assistant at one-tap assistant and available via the same wake-up phrase.

Google has remained tight-lipped on the driving mode retirement, and users can dismiss the notification on the screen by tapping the small "X" in the banner. However, it won't take long until Google begins the removal, so if you use the driving mode, be ready for a big change in the coming days.

Unfortunately, your options on this front are very limited. The driving mode was a half-baked replacement for Android Auto for phones, but the lack of features and the app limitations turned it into a controversial alternative to an app users loved.

Driving mode dashboard view
Photo: Google
Meanwhile, Google bets big on the full Android Auto experience. Not long ago, the search giant announced support for importing the phone's stock icon set on Android Auto, creating more consistency between the mobile device and the infotainment system. The wallpaper will also transition from the phone to the car, as Google wants to make Android Auto a more seamless extension to the mobile device. The features are exclusive to Samsung phones but could expand to more devices this year.

Google Maps on Android Auto also gets additional capabilities, including support for saving the parking location when it's different from the navigation address. Google Maps can offer step-by-step walking guidance from the parking location to the navigation address in the app.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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