Android Auto gets a makeover

A photo of the new Android Auto in portrait mode

Android Auto’s refresh will make it easier to take your maps and messages into account while driving.
Picture: Google

Android Auto in the dash gets a much-needed refresh. During a session at its developer conference, Google introduced a lapOptimized interface for Android based car software. It includes a new split-screen mode that’s more scalable across different display types, plus some other little things that will hopefully reduce the number of taps it takes to find what you need while driving.

If you’ve recently purchased a car, you may have noticed that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy a model without a giant screen housed between the driver and passenger seats. Large screens in the car seem to become the default with each new model. Following the trends, Google has reworked Android Auto so that it is easier to scale on any car screen, regardless of manufacturer and screen orientation.

Split-screen mode will become the standard mode for using Android Auto. It provides immediate access to all necessary features on the same screen, so you don’t have to tap and switch apps while looking at the road. The new Android Auto will display Google Maps and your media controls in a side-by-side array of windows, like you might split windows down the middle on a computer interface. The split-screen mode will adapt to different screen sizes and take into account the orientation of the display, such as landscape or portrait mode.

A preview of how split-screen mode will look on screens of different sizes.
GIF: Google

Google has also infused deeper integration with Assistant into Android Auto. You’ll see more pop-up alerts and suggestions. The assistant will also make it easier to communicate with frequent contacts and offer smart responses if you need to respond quickly and can’t touch your phone.

If your car has Google built-in, you get an extra feature that might prove controversial depending on what you think of in-car screens. Earlier this year, Google announced that it was allowing people to watch YouTube on the built-in screen once the vehicle was parked. It adds two new apps to the lineup, Tubi and Epix Now. Both offer a ton of free video content to help pass the time while waiting in the car.

A photo of Android Auto showing content you can watch

Who doesn’t want to use their car screen to watch free movies and TV shows?
Picture: Google

Coming soon to a car near you

The new interface will work on a variety of screen sizes. But how the windows are oriented will depend entirely on the car manufacturer and its layout. For example, I have a Subaru with an 11 inch screen. However, only half the screen is available to Android Auto, as the other half responds to Subaru-exclusive controls, such as the HVAC inside the car. Google said it’s up to the OEM to define how much space Android Auto can occupy.

Android Auto’s refresh isn’t a total surprise. Rumors about the new UI started last fall, and we had a real tease new look at the beginning of the year. The new interface seems to be less distracting than the current interface, where apps can often take over the entire screen, requiring you to reach out and press the back button hard to get back to browsing.

The new Android Auto interface will start rolling out to cars this summer. I can’t wait to try out the new look. Hope this is good enough that I can finally get over the fact that Google has deprecated my bookmark Android Auto app for phone.

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