However, the stability and reliability problems occasionally and regularly turn voice commands into a confusing mess. The feature suddenly stops working, making it impossible for drivers to control their apps.
It's what happens today following a recent update.
Users who turned to Google Assistant on Android Auto to set up Google Maps to a destination, play music, or make a phone call received a mysterious error message that "voice commands aren't available at the moment."
Several others claim voice commands are broken in their cars following a mid-November update. However, it doesn't look like Android Auto is responsible for the bug but the Google app. Google ships updates for Google Assistant via the Google app on Android and Android Auto.
The glitch was reported in mid-November and has since become more widespread, with multiple reports posted on Google's forums to report this behavior. The error message appears on the screen when waking up Google Assistant via the wake-up phrase or with the microphone icon on the screen.
The bug is not exclusive to a certain brand or phone model. Users confirmed the same voice command problem on Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi phones. The Android Auto version doesn't make a difference, as reports on Google's forums claim the same happens on stable and beta builds. Android Auto wired and wireless are both affected.
The process is fast and doesn't require any special computer skills. You must download an older Google app build on your device and browse to the file's location on the smartphone. Tap the APK file to begin the downgrade and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process.
Users should also disable the automatic updates for the Google app to block the device from receiving the latest version that includes the bug.
Based on user reports, you can downgrade to version 126.96.36.199 to restore the complete functionality bundled with Google Assistant. Previous versions should work, too, but the more you go back, the bigger the chances of lacking the latest functionality.
Using Android Auto without voice commands
Once voice commands are broken, users are tempted to return to their mobile devices, so a small bug like this can make the experience behind the wheel more dangerous. Others rely on touch input for the same thing, but eventually, drivers take their eyes off the road and interact with the infotainment screen to do the things they previously conducted with voice commands.
Google's staff has already chimed in, asking for more information on the bug. A community specialist says they forwarded the reports to the Android Auto team and asked for phone logs. It's too early to tell when a patch could go live, but Google typically ships updates for the Google app every few days, so I expect a fix to become available by the end of the week.
I'll post a follow-up story when the updated version that includes the fix becomes available.
Meanwhile, you should either downgrade to an earlier build or avoid interacting with the screen while driving. The best way to respond to a text is to pull over and unlock the mobile device. Looking at the screen or using the phone while driving is a big no-no, so fingers crossed for Google to release a fix as soon as possible.
Android Auto has recently reached version 10.9, but Google sticks with small changes under the hood. No new features are on the radar, though previous builds included evidence that the Mountain View-based search giant is working on a disconnect button for Android Auto wireless. With this new setting, users will be allowed to disconnect a mobile device from the head unit in case they want to use another smartphone in the cabin to run Android Auto. The feature isn't ready for the production ring, but additional information should surface in the coming weeks as new Android Auto updates go live.