Using a smartphone while driving -- it's an awkward dance. And it's unsafe. In some places in the U.S., it's illegal. With one hand, you're keeping the wheel steady, and with the other, you're scrolling through Spotify on your phone trying to pick the right album for the road. Hence, Android Auto, Google's solution to this problem, as well as an industry-setting attempt to bring cars up to speed with the technologies we enjoy every day on our phones.
How It Works
Android Auto's goal is to give drivers the top necessary tools they need while driving -- navigation, media, and communication (like texts and reminders) -- and that's it for distractions. First, you need a car with compatible dashboard technology (Hyundai's Sonata is the first to roll theirs out recently, but there are about thirty other manufacturers total on the line to produce compatible vehicles). Plug in your Android phone, and the control system leaps to the dashboard, where the driver can use touchscreen -- or more importantly -- voice-activated controls to select from the menu. While it's true that lots of cars already have similar interfaces, it might be said (politely) that most of these interfaces are pretty clunky. Watch the Android Auto video tutorial and it's easy to see how Android is making these features more seamless than ever.
- Better Navigation. See Google Maps large on the big screen, with live traffic navigation that suggests better routes if needed, plus voice-guided directions that come through your stereo speakers
- Road Music. Listen to music with the streaming services of your choice, such as iHeart Radio, Spotify, and TuneIn, and Google's own Google Play (Pandora is still pending). Hate the song you're listening to? Tell the console to skip it.
- Text and Drive. Messages and phone calls appear on the screen (sorry, no email or Instagram - that's for when you're not busy driving). If you miss a call from Mom, you can just tell the console to send her a text: "Text Mom: I'm on my way."
- Toggle Away. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Android Auto's visual display is its base menu screen, which minimizes all open windows into small buttons that appear simultaneously in the same space. All at the same moment you can know the weather, the name of the song you're listening to, and whether you need to make a right or a left on Main Street.
Given our dependence on our smartphones, it's natural that we're looking for ways to continue using them in our cars. Android Auto is perhaps the first time car makers and gadget guys have worked together to give drivers what they want -- a way to continue doing business from the road. Perhaps knowing that where there's a will, there's a way, the Android team has hopefully made it safer to use these technologies while driving. One can only imagine what other tools might come next: an app that lets you send your order to the drive-thru so that it's ready when you pull in? (Just a thought).