Google will enable Android Auto to run wirelessly from your phone in compatible vehicles, while Google Assistant rolls out throughout the platform.
Android Auto has been Google’s answer to the issue of distracted driving, running as a projection platform. It runs off the phone when plugged into the vehicle’s USB port for a hands-free experience.
Free to download and use, it’s been the best Android integration into a car to date. Now, it’s about to go wireless, so you won’t need to plug in your phone via USB. However, this new functionality will only apply to newer cars and aftermarket head units supporting the feature. It appears unlikely automakers will make it backward-compatible through a firmware or software update.
To pull this off, the car must have a Wi-Fi connection of its own. And if it does have a Wi-Fi connection, it must be on the 5GHz band. It uses that to “talk” to the phone via Wi-Fi Direct, and then utilizes the phone’s LTE connection for all data usage.
Note that this wireless feature applies to the integrated version of Android Auto that runs directly on a car’s dashboard. Google had previously made Android Auto available as a standalone app you could just use on your phone for instances where you didn’t have compatibility otherwise.
Google Assistant in the car
Google’s Assistant has been seen and heard all over CES this year, and including it in Android Auto vastly improves what you can say and do. For example, you can dive right in to what you want to hear from Spotify, Google Play Music or TuneIn. Say the track, artist, playlist or radio station and it will do it.
It’s a lot like using Google Home in the car, with some limitations, of course. You could control a smart home product while driving home, like turning on smart lights, or setting your Nest Thermostat to a certain temperature. Send messages, or respond to incoming ones.
You can’t ask for directions through Google Maps or Waze when talking to a Home unit, but Assistant on Android Auto does enable that. Search for the nearest gas station or coffee shop. There’s a lot you can do.
Any Android phone running version 5.0 Lollipop or later can run Android Auto, so the updated Assistant will work no matter how you run the platform. The wireless functionality will be more of a new feature that automakers and aftermarket manufacturers will need to support.
With such a huge focus on in-car connectivity at this year’s CES, features like these fit the overall narrative at the show. It may not be quite as futuristic as what I’ve seen here, but Android Auto is widely accessible.