Google is making a bigger play for the in-car infotainment system. At Google I/O 2023, the company took the wraps off of a series of improvements to both Android Auto and Android Automotive, allowing those who want Google-based services in their car to get more features and better account integration.
As a reminder, the two systems may have a similar (almost identical?) name, but are actually quite different. Android Auto essentially just projects content from your phone, whether through a wireless or wired connection. It’s Google’s answer to Apple’s CarPlay, and doesn’t work without your phone. Android Automotive, however, is a version of Android that runs in the car itself, as the car’s main infotainment system. It works whether you have a connected phone or not. Collectively, Google refers to the systems as Android for Cars — yes, yet another name.
Here’s a look at what’s new in Android for Cars.
First up is Android Auto, which is what most Android users currently use to integrate their in-car experience with their phone. According to Google, Android Auto will be available in almost 200 million cars by the end of the year, and while some car manufacturers have announced that they’re moving away from offering CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s still how millions of users integrate with their cars.
For Google I/O 2023, however, the updates to Android Auto are relatively minor. Earlier this year, Google launched a redesign of Android Auto, but now it’s getting support for conferencing apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, allowing users to hear the audio from meetings and control the call straight from their car display.
Much bigger are the updates to Android Automotive, or the operating system built straight into cars.
For starters, Waze is finally rolling out to all cars that have Android Automotive, and will be available through the Play Store on those cars. Waze is also getting new EV-focused features in cars, like the ability to look up charging stations that specifically support your car’s plug type.
Entertainment in cars with Android Automotive is getting better too. YouTube will now be available as an app for cars in the Google Play Store. Initially, it’ll only be available in Polestar cars, but it’ll come to other cars “soon,” according to Google. YouTube will likely be locked when the car is in motion, and allowed to run when the car is in park. GameSnacks, which is currently available on Android Auto and runs small games, is also coming to Android Automotive.
Lastly, Google is rolling out Google Assistant smart suggestions for Android Automotive cars, allowing drivers to quickly and easily respond to messages.
Generally speaking, Android Automotive is getting more full-featured, and it’s a good thing too. As car software becomes increasingly important, many carmakers are realizing that they don’t want to be software companies — and are thus turning to systems like Android Automotive.