Android Auto vs. Android Automotive: What's the Difference?

One runs on your phone, and the other runs on your car’s head unit

Android Auto and Android Automotive are two confusingly named Google products that let you use your phone hands-free in your vehicle. Android Auto mirrors your phone on your vehicle’s built-in display, while Android Automotive is an operating system that runs directly on a vehicle’s head unit. They share many similarities due to common Android ancestry but are two very different solutions to the same problem.

Android Auto vs Android Automotive

Overall Findings

Android Auto
  • Runs on your phone, and interfaces with a vehicle’s head unit.

  • Requires a head unit that’s compatible with Android Auto.

  • Available in most new cars and trucks.

  • Requires an Android phone with Android 8 or newer.

  • Works with a variety of map apps.

  • Some functionality is available via Google Assistant Driving Mode without connecting to a head unit.

  • Requires a data plan or mobile hotspot.

Android Automotive
  • Operating system that’s based on Android.

  • Runs directly on a head unit or tablet.

  • Limited availability.

  • Works with both iPhones and Android phones.

  • Fully integrated with the vehicle.

  • Runs a limited number of Android apps.

  • Controls heat and air conditioning, the radio, rear seat entertainment, and other functions.

  • Navigation limited to Google Maps.

Android Auto and Android Automotive are both based on Android, and both provide a way to use your phone in your car, but they're very different in how each approaches that goal. Where Android Auto connects your phone to the head unit in your vehicle, Android Automotive runs on the head unit and doesn't need a phone to operate.

The way Android Auto works is that it connects your phone to a compatible vehicle head unit and mirrors your phone to the head unit display. Your phone runs everything, with visual aspects appearing on the head unit display and audio components like music and phone calls coming through the vehicle's speakers.

Android Automotive is an operating system that's based on Android. It's designed for installation on vehicle head units, where it replaces a manufacturer's infotainment software. For example, Ford uses Android Automotive instead of their Sync system in several vehicles. Navigation and other apps run directly on the head unit, and you can connect an Android phone or iPhone for hands-free calling.

Voice Controls: Android Automotive Offers Total Integration

Android Auto
  • Uses Google Assistant.

  • Controls navigation, phone, texts, music, and other apps with voice.

  • Can’t control vehicle features or functions like air conditioning.

Android Automotive
  • Uses Google Assistant.

  • Controls navigation, phone, texts, music, and other apps with voice.

  • Total integration lets you control vehicle systems like air conditioning.

Android Auto and Android Automotive use Google Assistant for voice control to perform the same tasks. Both systems allow you to set and change navigation routes, place and receive phone calls, and send and receive texts through voice commands. Android Auto is limited to controlling your phone and apps that run on your phone, though, while Android Automotive is integrated with all of the systems in the vehicle. Android Automotive lets you control systems like heat and air conditioning, radio, and other entertainment options using voice commands.

Navigation and Apps: Android Auto Is More Flexible

Android Auto
  • Uses Google Maps for navigation by default.

  • A variety of alternative map apps are available.

  • Works with a wide variety of Android apps.

  • Apps are installed on your phone.

Android Automotive
  • Uses Google Maps for navigation by default.

  • Can’t use alternative map apps.

  • Only works with a limited number of Android apps.

  • Apps have to be installed directly on the Android Automotive device.

Android Auto and Android Automotive use Google Maps by default, but Android Auto is more flexible. Android Auto works with various alternative navigation apps, like Waze and MapQuest, while Android Automotive doesn’t have the same level of flexibility. For example, Waze is available in some vehicles that use Android Automotive but without all the features in the standard Android app.

Android Automotive is also significantly more limited in terms of apps. While the operating system is based on Android, and you can download and install apps, the selection of apps is much smaller than the library that’s available on other Android devices. The other difference is that apps are installed directly on your phone with Android Auto, while apps are installed on the head unit in your vehicle with Android Automotive.

Phone Compatibility: Android Automotive Works With iPhones

Android Auto
  • Requires a phone with Android 8.0 or newer.

  • Wireless connections require Android 11.0 or newer.

  • Some Samsung phones with Android 9.0 also support wireless connections.

Android Automotive
  • Works with Android phones.

  • Works with iPhones.

  • Connects via Bluetooth.

One of the most significant differences between the two is that Android Auto only works with Android phones, while Android Automotive works with Android and iPhones. Android Auto mirrors your Android phone, while Android Automotive is a standalone operating system that doesn’t require a phone to work. You can connect an Android phone or iPhone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling, but the phone itself doesn’t run any apps or perform any functions beyond phone calls and texts.

Final Verdict: Android Auto Is More Widely Available

Android Automotive has a few significant advantages over Android Auto. It runs directly on a vehicle’s head unit, so it’s integrated with the vehicle and lets you control things like air conditioning via voice commands, which you can’t do with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It also doesn’t need a phone, and it works equally well with Android phones and iPhones. The catch is that it doesn’t integrate with your phone like Android Auto and CarPlay do since it runs apps directly on the vehicle’s head unit instead of on your phone.

Android Auto has a few advantages, the most important being its wide availability. Most new vehicles support Android Auto and CarPlay, while Android Automotive is only available in a few vehicles. Android Auto also works with a much wider variety of apps, with the crucial option of using many different navigation apps.

  • How do I turn off Android Auto and Android Automotive?

    You can disconnect your phone from Android Auto by either unplugging it from your car or severing the Bluetooth connection. To turn off Android Automotive, you'll need to power off your car's console.

  • How do I update Android Auto?

    In Android 10 and later, Android Auto is part of the operating system. It will refresh alongside regular software updates. In Android 9 and below, Auto is a separate app; you can update it through the Google Play Store.

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