Hands on with Android Auto’s redesign and Assistant’s driver mode

Android Auto is getting a redesign, which Google announced at its I/O 2019 developer conference, and the changes are all about tapping the screen in your car less. I sat in a car running the new redesign, which arrives sometime this summer, and I also got a glimpse at other new Google features to improve the driving experience, such as remote vehicle controls and Google Assistant’s very own Driving Mode. Here’s what they’re all like.

The Android Auto redesign

After driving around the past few days with a car that used Apple’s CarPlay, the new Android Auto is a godsend. The most noticeable change is the darker theme — something Google added in its upcoming version of Android as well. It’s meant to match the car’s interiors, and the subdued colors are less distracting. It looks great, but you may need to wait some time for all app developers to add support for their respective apps.

The new interface also now starts in your favorite navigation app as you start the car, be it Maps or Waze, and it even will resume playing the last music track you were listening to — almost like having the radio go on when you start a car. Maps will suggest locations to navigate to, which means there’s a good chance you may not need to type in directions or use voice at all. There’s also now a widget at the bottom to control media, so you never have to really leave the Maps app when navigating.

The redesign is a good step forward in making important functions of the screen easier to access with fewer taps.

Even better, if you do need to switch to your music app, it’s very easy to do via the icon on the bottom left, and the buttons are large enough to comfortably press without accidentally tapping something else. There’s also now an app launcher as well that resembles the app drawer on Android phones. At the very top are recently used apps in certain categories, such as music, navigation, and communications.

In the app launcher, there are a handful of apps you’ll see with the Assistant icon next to them, like the calendar, weather, and reminders icons. These are services you can tap on to have Assistant quickly read out things like the weather, or have the Assistant swiftly create a reminder or calendar event. Google said it’s hoping to make these more customizable and add more in the future.

A new notification center is present, also akin to Android phones. Tap it and you can see a list of notifications, and have Google Assistant read the alerts out, or you can tap preview to see them yourself. It’s also just as easy to respond via voice.

The redesign is a good step forward in making important functions of the screen easier to access with fewer taps. It will roll out this summer across all cars that support Android Auto, and it will also be compatible with wider screens in cars.

The list of automakers that offer Android Auto continues to grow. Toyota resisted the software for years, but it’s finally beginning to offer it in some of its models, including the 2020 Tacoma. And, Porsche told Digital Trends that it’s open to the idea of letting Google into its dashboards in the not-too-distant future.

Assistant’s Driving Mode

If your car doesn’t support Android Auto, you’ll likely just use your phone, and Google Assistant will soon come with a mode equipped for drivers.

It’s largely a personalized dashboard with all sorts of recommendations as you drive, such as calendar events, quick actions to navigate to work and return a call. There are also media recommendations based on what you were last playing, whether it was on your phone or through a Google Home at home.

Assistant will read out notifications, and as usual, it’s controllable by voice. While navigating, you can just swipe up from the bottom to pull up media controls. And if you go back to the dashboard, the directions will get stickied at the top of the screen so you never miss a turn.

The new Assistant Driving Mode is the future of Android Auto on a phone, and while Google didn’t say it explicitly, that likely means the existing Android Auto app may eventually be phased out. Assistant’s Driving Mode will arrive in the next few months.

Remote vehicle controls

Remote vehicle controls are a new feature limited to cars that work with Hyundai’s Blue Link and Mercedes-Benz’s Mercedes me Connect. If you have one of these supported vehicles, you’ll be able to hook Assistant up to the car, and begin controlling certain functions before you even leave the house — through Assistant on the phone or a Google Home speaker.

You can unlock the doors, have the temperature start running, and even check how many more miles the car can take you before you need to refuel.

At Google I/O, we also saw Android Automotive powering a car, though this technology seemed a little further away from the rest you see here. The remote control functions, along with the Assistant Driving Mode and the Android Auto redesign, are all arriving sometime in the next few months.


5 features I’d like to see in Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone

We’ve had a sneak peek at Google’s forthcoming Pixel 4 smartphone, and it offers few clues about what we’ll get. These are the 5 features I’d like to see Google include to take the Pixel line to the next level.

Exclusive: This is Mobvoi’s next Wear OS smartwatch, and it likely adds 4G LTE

Mobvoi may not be a household name in the U.S., but it sells affordable smartwatches running Google's Wear OS platform. The company's next watch has leaked -- by Mobvoi itself -- and Digital Trends managed to snap a screenshot.
Smart Home

Best deals on Amazon Echo and Google Home Nest devices for Father’s Day

You can save money on a wide range of devices for Amazon Echo and Google Home Nest smart homes for Father's Day. Here are the best discounts on smart speakers, smart displays, video doorbells, and smart outdoor security cameras.

Google Maps will now warn you about disasters and tell you how fast you’re going

Google Maps expanded its SOS alerts to include notifications and visualized information regarding disasters. For some users, the app has also added a speedometer, which complements the recently added speed cameras and speed limits feature.

Ford recalls 1.3 million Explorer and F-150 vehicles over safety issues

Ford announced multiple safety recalls on Wednesday, June 12, the largest of which affects 1.2 million Explorer SUVs over an issue with the suspension that has the potential to affect steering control.

Here’s why BMW mechanics now carry smartglasses in their tool chest

BMW technicians in the United States have started wearing smartglasses, and it's not because they're shooting alien ships between oil changes. They use augmented reality technology to access workshop manuals.
Product Review

The last American midsize plug-in hybrid is being squeezed out of existence

The 2019 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid can’t catch a break. Ford is planning to discontinue production next year, but looming tariffs could spell doom for an otherwise comfortable and very economically sensible sedan.

Watch as Volkswagen’s ID R racer wins the ultimate EV bragging rights

The Volkswagen ID R has set a lap record for electric cars at Germany's Nürburgring Nordschleife. The electric race car's lap time of 6 minutes, 5.33 seconds beat the previous record by 40 seconds.

Will Detroit be the ultimate test for Argo A.I.’s self-driving Ford?

Ford-backed Argo A.I. revealed its third-generation autonomous prototype in Detroit. Based on the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the car is fitted with technology that sees better and further, thinks faster, and is more comfortable to ride in.

Tesla screens may support YouTube with next software update

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today at E3 that the infotainment screens will support YouTube video streaming very soon. This most likely lines up with the latest software update that is expected later this year.

Volvo has created an autonomous truck that looks like a sports car

Volvo’s autonomous truck, called Vera, is about to start work at a Swedish port. The vehicle has a modest top speed of 25 mph and features a striking design that makes it look as if the usual cab has been swapped for a sports car.

Florida allows autonomous cars to drive on its roads without human supervision

Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed a law that establishes a legal framework for self-driving cars to operate within the state. It allows car and tech companies to test self-driving cars without a human operator behind the wheel.

New Toyota tech will automatically shut off engines, apply parking brakes

Toyota is launching two new safety features for the 2020 model year. One will automatically shut off a car's engine when stationary, and the other will automatically shift into park and apply the parking brake to prevent rollaways.

Aston Martin will put its Valkyrie hybrid hypercar to the ultimate test

The Aston Martin Valkyrie will race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021. Aston Martin is taking advantage of new rules that encourage automakers to bring their fastest hypercars to the legendary French race.