How to Use Android Auto in Any Car

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The App, Unleashed

a woman driving a car
Kohei Hara / Getty Images

In its first iteration, Android Auto brought your smartphone to your dashboard, provided you had a compatible car or aftermarket infotainment system. More than 50 brands and 200 models support Android Auto. But, if you've been on a highway or in a parking lot recently, you've seen that there are a lot of older cars still on the road, and there will continue to be for some time. If your vehicle doesn't have or can't accommodate a screen or you don't want to spend the money on pricey add-ons, you're stuck. Or rather, you were, until early 2015, when Google released the Android Auto app.

If you have an Android smartphone running 5.0 or later, you no longer need a compatible vehicle or infotainment system; you can use Auto right on your device. All you need is a dashboard mount, so you can be hands-free and keep the battery charged. Google will partner with manufacturers such as Logitech, that make Bluetooth enabled dash mounts. Android Auto is not compatible with iOS, which isn't surprising considering Apple has a competing product called CarPlay.

Once you set it up, you can access driving directions, music, messages, and more, using voice commands. You can also opt to automatically start the app when the phone pairs with Bluetooth (either your car's or a third-party device, like a dashboard mount). Likewise, you can automatically turn on Bluetooth when you fire up the app.

After you install the app, you have to agree to safety requirements (keep your eyes on the road, obey traffic laws, don't get distracted), then set up permissions for navigation, music, calls, messages, and other voice commands. As with any app, you can opt into and out of any of the permissions, which allow the app to make and manage phone calls; access your device's location; access your contacts; send and view SMS messages; record audio. Finally, you can choose whether to allow Auto to show your notifications on top of other apps, which in turn enables Auto to read and interact with your notifications.

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The Home Screen

Android Auto Home Screen
Courtesy of Google

The app takes over your home screen, enlarging notification cards, including weather alerts, recent destinations, new messages, navigation prompts, and missed calls. Along the bottom of the screen are symbols for navigation (arrow), phone, entertainment (headphones), and an exit button. Tapping navigation brings you to Google Maps, while the phone button brings up recent calls. Finally, the headphone symbol pulls up any compatible audio apps including music, podcasts, and audiobooks. The Auto interface works in both portrait and landscape views. Portrait view is useful for keeping up with notifications, while landscape mode is handy for viewing maps and upcoming turns in Google Maps.

On the top right a "hamburger" menu button, where you can also exit the app as well as access settings and discover apps that are compatible with Android Auto. True to Android's open system, aside from Maps, you don't have to use only Google apps; a lot of popular third-party music, messaging, and other car-friendly apps are compatible. When scrolling through songs, the interface jumps from letter to letter so you can more easily find what you want.

In settings, you can set up an auto-reply (default is "I'm driving right now) that pops up as an option when you receive a message. Here you can also manage cars that you've connected to Android Auto.

The app will soon include more support for voice commands so that you can use the "OK Google" prompt to access maps, messaging, and music apps hands-free. You can also access voice commands by tapping the microphone button on the Android Auto home screen.

Rolling out the Android Auto app in this way will certainly increase adoption as it will save consumers a considerable amount of money. (New cars and aftermarket accessories add up in cost pretty quickly.) The broad availability of Android Auto should also mean that more compatible apps should flood the market. While developers don't have to start from scratch to make Auto-compatible apps, they do have to comply with many safety regulations to prevent distracted driving. Additionally, this gives it a significant leg up over Apple CarPlay, which is still limited to specific vehicles and aftermarket accessories, at least for now.

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