The Death of Android Auto for Phones: Everything You Need to Know

At this point, Google is offering three different solutions to those who want to expand the Android experience behind the wheel and therefore get car-optimized features, including media playback, navigation, and phone call management.
Android Auto for phones 12 photos
Photo: Google
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The first of them is Android Auto, an application that requires dedicated hardware support in every car, with the Android smartphone connected to the head unit then mirroring the UI on the larger screen inside the cabin. The full version of Android Auto therefore requires an Android phone and a compatible head unit with support for either wired or wireless connections.

The second is Android Auto for phones, a simplified version of the full app that runs on the phone but offers the same approach, user interface, and app support. In other words, what you typically see on the screen of your car when running full Android Auto is now displayed on your phone, with the same optimized experience available from one end to another. Android Auto for phones requires only an Android mobile device and eliminates the need for a compatible head unit, as the whole thing runs on the smartphone.

The third and the most advanced option is Android Automotive, a standalone operating system that requires dedicated hardware and must be pre-installed on each car before it leaves the factory. Android Automotive is obviously the most advanced of all three, coming with deep integration of Google services, though it’s also the most expensive since it needs new hardware and additional processing power. It requires a new car pre-loaded with Android Automotive.

Android Automotive in Polestar 2
Photo: Polestar
So most recently, Google announced that it’s killing off Android Auto for phones, and for some reason, many believed this is the end of Android Auto altogether.

That’s not true, as the Mountain View-based search giant is only retiring the mobile experience that we described above, and while for those who don’t have a head unit capable of running the full version of Android Auto it may seem like a big loss, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And it’s all because Google has already developed a fully-featured alternative.

It’s called “driving mode” and is powered by Google Assistant and Google Maps. At their core, Android Auto for phones and the new driving mode are pretty similar, though the latter comes with a more modern approach and no longer requires a dedicated app since it’s bundled with Google Assistant and Google Maps.

The change takes place with the release of Android 12, so in theory, those who will stick with Android 11 will still be able to run Android Auto for phones in their cars. However, no new updates would be released for the app, and once they remove it from their phones, it’s gone forever.

Android Auto interface
Photo: Google
The driving mode, on the other hand, will continue to be further polished as part of future Google app updates, and going forward, it’s pretty clear this is the only focus for the search giant as far as the mobile driving experience is concerned.

Just like Android Auto for phones, the new driving mode features deep integration of Google services, with navigation powered by Google Maps and voice commands support offered by Google Assistant. It also allows users to manage phone calls, send messages, and get app notifications just like Android Auto.

To sum up, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked lately that I’ve seen swirling around the web lately:

  • No, Google is not killing off the full version of Android Auto, but only Android Auto for phones
  • Android Auto for phones will continue to work on devices where it’s installed
  • No future updates for Android Auto for phones will be released going forward
  • The support for Android Auto for phones will be pulled when Android 12 is released this fall
  • The supported car-optimized experiences in the long term are Android Auto, Android Automotive, and the driving mode in Google Assistant
  • Nothing changes on the full Android Auto front, with updates to continue to ship according to the schedule
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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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