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Android Auto on smartphones
November 21, 2016, 4:05 pm

Early this year, Google teased a version of its Android Auto software that would run entirely on an Android phone and not require a new car or aftermarket dashboard display. Now the company is starting to roll this software out to Android phone owners.

The new Android Auto app, which is an updated version of the existing app, offers a completely streamlined, easy-to-navigate phone interface when driving in a car. It also limits the amount of notification alerts you see, and includes the options to have your text messages read aloud to you and to respond to them using voice.

The new app shows just four icons at the bottom of the screen for Maps, phone calls, audio listening, and an enlarged home button — which maps back to Android Auto when running, instead of to the main home screen. At the top of the interface there is a menu tap, and a microphone icon. Even without actively tapping the icons at the bottom, Android Auto will automatically show a series of cards once you have launched the app.

Google says that any of the apps that have been previously supported in Android Auto — and there are more than 500 of them — will work within this application interface, too. That means popular apps like WhatsApp, Spotify, Pandora, and Pocket Casts will all work in there.

The new Android Auto is free to download, and will work on any Android device running Lollipop (OS version 5.0) or newer. It will be available in 30 countries.

One of the downsides of the Android Auto mobile app is that it is in 'always-on' mode and drains your smartphone’s battery life. But, Mickey Kataria, director of product management for Maps and Android Auto, insists that using Android Auto would only drain battery life a "tiny bit more" than, say, running Maps in standard mode for an extended period of time. The app also suggests that you tether your smartphone to a power source during the initial setup process.

Also, the ability to trigger voice control by saying “OK Google” is still not available with the app at the time of launch, but it is expected to be launched in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, when you receive a text message in Android Auto mode, you can respond with an, I'm driving right now' text with one tap

It even has a smart activation feature: in the settings section of the app you can set the app to autolaunch when your phone wirelessly connects to your car’s Bluetooth.

Android Auto is a very attractive option for car owners with Android phones, at least until they buy new vehicles that come preloaded with Android Auto.

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