How to Enable Taskbar Widgets on Android Auto Coolwalk

Android Auto quick app controls 15 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
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The Android Auto redesign announced by Google in January ships with many changes, and one of the most important concerns is the taskbar at the bottom of the screen.
The search giant redesigned the taskbar to improve its main purpose, somehow bringing it closer to a concept that everybody is familiar with. The Windows taskbar, which is available on our computers, provides us with an easy way to access apps, see the current time, and switch between apps.

The new taskbar in Android Auto Coolwalk has a similar purpose. A “Start” button in the lower left corner lets users access the app drawer and go back to the multi-app view. The app icons are displayed at the center of the screen, while the right side serves as the home of extra info like the current time and signal indicators.

The taskbar redesign also updated the default layout. The dynamic buttons, often referred to as widgets, are no longer there and have been replaced with app icons.

How the taskbar icons now work

Android Auto Coolwalk comes with four icons in the taskbar when landscape mode is active. The first three of them are locked, while the fourth is dynamic and changes to the most recently used app. The first icon (the closest to the driver) is a shortcut to the navigation app (Google Maps, Waze, or any other alternative), while the one right next to it is the audio solution. The third provides access to phone calls.

As such, these icons aren’t only a “Start menu” to launch the apps but also a shortcut to bring them back in focus when you switch to another reason. This is why the first three icons are always locked – navigation apps, audio software, and phone calls are essential parts of the Android Auto experience, so they must be there at a one-tap distance.

In portrait mode, Android Auto Coolwalk displays just three icons, so users lose the fourth one offering access to the most recently used app.

Many users want a portrait mode just because of the weather card but forget about this major shortcoming, so the landscape version is more useful on multiple levels.

Android Auto Coolwalk
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

The taskbar widgets

While the taskbar redesign clearly puts the focus on app icons and their double purpose, Coolwalk doesn’t kill off the taskbar widgets.

They are still there, but Coolwalk ships with the feature disabled by default. Most likely, Google wanted users to discover the benefits of the redesigned taskbar before jumping back to widgets.

Officially called “quick app controls,” the taskbar widgets are a way to control apps that are not in focus.

The easiest way to understand how they work is to imagine you are running two Android Auto apps at the same time, such as Google Maps and Spotify. Google Maps is responsible for route guidance to a destination, while Spotify plays your favorite music in the background.

The quick app controls integrated into the taskbar display dynamic widgets that adapt to what you do on the screen. When Google Maps is in focus, so you look at the navigation app and get turn-by-turn instructions, the widgets display playback controls from Spotify. You can therefore play or pause the song without bringing Spotify back in focus.

The dynamic widgets display next-turn information if Spotify is running on the screen but navigation is enabled. This way, Android Auto helps keep you informed about the route, so you never miss a turn despite keeping another app in focus.

Android Auto Coolwalk
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The taskbar widgets replace the app icons when enabled. Android Auto doesn’t have enough space on the taskbar to keep both on the screen at the same time, so you must decide what version fits you best.

To enable taskbar widgets, you must open the Settings app on Android Auto and look for a section called, well… “Taskbar widgets.” This menu includes an option that activates “quick controls for apps,” so tap the toggle to enable the feature.

You should notice that app icons immediately disappear from Android Auto when this feature is active. However, the taskbar displays the app icons on the Android Auto launch, pretty much because showing quick controls wouldn’t make any sense. No apps are running when you start Android Auto for the first time, so the widgets can’t display any quick controls.

Android Auto Coolwalk is still rolling out to users, but the new design has already been activated for the majority of users. Google hasn’t provided any information as to when it plans to reach the broad availability phase, but the rollout should be complete by the end of the year. With I/O now just around the corner, Google will likely discuss its automotive plans at the event, including the Coolwalk rollout progress. As such, we should be provided with more information on the new Android Auto design in just a few weeks.
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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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