What is Android Auto?

  • The familiar Google ecosystem in your car
  • Android Auto enables journey-focused apps to keep you safe
  • Use tech for added convenience and comfort


      The familiar Google eco-system in your car

      Android Auto enables journey-focused apps to keep you safe

Use tech for added convenience and comfort      

Android Auto is an app, enabling drivers to use their familiar Google apps behind the wheel. Android’s answer to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto is second in a trio of phone mirroring technologies—the third being the platform-agnostic Mirrorlink—integrated in a bid to minimise distracted driving, enhance comfort and convenience and improve driver safety

How does it work?

Connecting a USB cable, or in certain models, wirelessly connecting, launches Android Auto — provided you have the Android Auto app downloaded to your handset. An Android phone running Android 6.0 and up with a data plan is the minimum requirement to use Android Auto.

Why do I need Android in my car?

Historically, car brands’ proprietary systems didn’t work very well with rubbish functionality, outdated icons and glitchy screens. Kudos to manufacturers, which have taken huge strides to make the car’s touchscreens as reliable as our mobile phone screens.

Since 2003 it’s been illegal to use a handheld device behind the wheel of a vehicle in the UK. Despite the message “You cannot activate this feature while the vehicle is in motion”, drivers every day are breaking the law to access functions and features on their phones.

By integrating Android Auto into the proprietary system, car makers hope to minimise driver distraction and adds a level of choice, comfort and convenience for owners of Android-based handsets.

Android Auto

Volvo has taken it one step further. Working directly with Android, the outgoing Volvo Sensus suite has been replaced entirely with an Android-based connectivity and infotainment system in all new cars, including the XC90, XC40 P8 Recharge and S90.

By using an Android operating system, Volvo hopes to gain critical security smarts. After all, connecting to the internet wasn’t something the core software stack of a vehicle’s electronic system was built to do. Volvo can also use the pre-existing app store platform, Google Play Store—more sensible than creating its own, since removes a lot of friction for the consumer experience.

What does Android Auto enable you to do?

It’s important to note that although it’s a phone-mirroring feature, it doesn’t wholly ‘mirror’ what’s on your phone. Specifically the functions of “The Google Assistant”, Navigate (Google Maps or Waze), Communicate (Phone) and Entertain (Music and Audio) are accessible. Google’s weather app, your GCal calendar and other apps have been enabled to seamlessly connect your life outside of your car to your journey inside the vehicle.

The likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer are not available. Though some would argue these apps would be useful for smaller passengers who don’t yet have their own handset, the rules are the rules.

How well does Android Auto work?

There’s been significant improvements of the Android Auto experience and now users can expect to connect easily, see chunky menu buttons (more accurately selected when the vehicle is in motion) and a good range of apps, all useful to the journey experience.

Google Maps and Waze are two of the most popular navigation tools—something Apple has struggled to keep pace with (so much so, it eventually had to relent and enable Google Maps to be added to the App Store. Ouch.)

While some older drivers in particular, will dismiss using sat-nav for every journey, especially on familiar routes, without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to know the road conditions on a given day at a given time—that’s where data technologies come into their own.

Data has a bad reputation these days, and so it should. For a long time, companies like Google have been making money from consumers by selling their behaviourial data in exchange for ‘free’ use of their services. The truth is, nothing is free.

Android Auto

Android continues to collect behaviourial data, just as Apple does, and while the car makers aren’t really happy about it, it seems consumers’ demand for this functionality is greater than their desire to protect the information about their lives that the tech firms want access to.

The argument is much easier to understand when the sat-nav tells you that your normal route will take an extra 30 minutes due to an accident. In the past, the first you’d know of it is once you find yourself stuck in traffic.

Navigation apps can now re-route based on the information being fed into them in real-time. They disseminate this very quickly via Cloud technologies. We won’t go into that here, but it’s worth setting your navigation on every journey you take to get the best out of your technology.

Does my car have Android Auto?

Apple Carplay made it into vehicles first September 2014. Android Auto followed suit in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata, though integration in more vehicles lagged behind CarPlay for some time.

These days, the two competitors are achieving parity. Android Auto is available on a variety of new cars, ranging from the Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra to the Audi Q7 and Ford Kuga.

It’s worth noting that it’s not always standard, and that you’ll need to select it from the options list for some cars. If you’ve connected your cable, downloaded the app and you’re not seeing any prompts on your phone screen or the car’s centre display, it’s likely you don’t have Android Auto. Check with the dealership to be sure. 

The Google Assistant can be initiated from the wake words ‘Hey Google’ or the car’s voice control activation button—you may need to hold it longer to get it to work. From there, you can command Google to navigate somewhere, write a message, call someone or play your preferred audio app. It’s super intuitive and accurate most of the time.

Though it claims to ‘Reserve Parking’, we haven’t yet tried these features out. It gives a flavour for how connected driving is going in the future though.

Similar to

Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions.