The Latest Android Auto Feature Proves Google Should Unban YouTube in the Car

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If you've been part of the Android Auto community for more than a few weeks, you probably know already that YouTube is not allowed on the infotainment screen as part of Google's in-car experience.
Theoretically, Google has every reason in the world to block YouTube on Android Auto. The application can become one of the biggest distraction sources for drivers, as the people behind the wheel might be tempted to look at the screen and take their eyes off the road.

The search giant can restrict the app when the vehicle is in motion, allowing YouTube only when parked. This approach has already been adopted on Android Automotive, where a YouTube app is available, allowing drivers to watch videos when they wait to pick up groceries or charge their cars.

Android Auto blocks all video apps, including not only YouTube but also Netflix and other streaming services. Android Automotive also allows streaming platforms, again when the vehicle is parked.

While Google's reasoning for blocking YouTube in the car makes sense from a distraction perspective, it doesn't when you take into account the company's latest Android Auto feature and other factors that I'll detail below. It's not the first time I try to make a case for YouTube on Android Auto, but Google seems to ignore my and everybody else's request, allowing the app only on Android Automotive.

Android Auto Coolwalk
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

Apps only allowed when parked.

Google's latest Android Auto update makes it clearer what apps are blocked when the vehicle is in motion.

The search giant has released a small icon label that appears on the Android Auto home screen. The label uses a small "P" indicator to show apps that only run on Android Auto when the vehicle is parked. If you still tap their icons when the car is in motion, you should see an on-screen message reading that you're not allowed to use the app unless you park the car.

The label appears for every application that is designed to be used when the vehicle is parked, and it would make sense for a YouTube client, too. Google could clearly mark YouTube with this new tag, preventing drivers from launching the app unless the vehicle is parked.

There are other reasons why Google should unblock YouTube on Android Auto, and it all starts with Android Automotive support.

Android Auto Coolwalk
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The company has already whitelisted the video service on Android Automotive, which is an evolved version of Android Auto installed at the hardware level, demonstrating that YouTube has its own place in the car. It's still blocked when the vehicle is in motion (not even audio is allowed).

Google also has the technical means to block YouTube on Android Auto when the car starts moving. The typing experience bundled with navigation apps is living proof, as Android Auto can determine when the car is no longer parked. If you try to type an address in Google Maps or Waze on Android Auto, the app automatically restricts the feature, explaining that you must only type when the car is parked.

YouTube is already available on Android Auto if you know how to unblock it and get around Google's walled garden. It's one of the reasons Google should whitelist the app by default, as users who want YouTube in the car have found the technical ways to get the app when Android Auto runs on the infotainment screen. Even worse, some methods allow YouTube even when the vehicle is moving, becoming a major distraction source for the person behind the wheel.

Google unblocking YouTube could prevent users from turning to third-party hacks, eventually sticking with a safer integration that only works when parked.

Android Auto Coolwalk
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
I've already tried YouTube behind the wheel not long ago, and trust me when I say that keeping the app running when you drive is extremely distracting, even if you think it's not. A video playing on the screen will distract you in one way or another, so you'll still end up glancing at the screen occasionally when your eyes should be permanently on the road.

Last but not least, Google says the Android Auto adoption keeps growing, with the app already running in over 200 million vehicles. It's a sign that not offering the full app package users expect could eventually lead to some users jumping ship or trying out the aforementioned third-party hacks to unlock YouTube in their cars.

Google has so far remained tight-lipped on its plans regarding YouTube on Android Auto, but the company should no longer ignore the requests and bring the app to its growing user base. Until this happens, people will continue to search for ways to get YouTube behind the wheel, and I admit that Google is even a bit lucky because Apple has embraced a similar stubbornness, too. YouTube is also blocked on CarPlay, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the app unlocked on the new-generation CarPlay due this year.
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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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