I’m a big fan of Android Auto.
I drive a 2016 Audi A4 with Audi’s own MMI system and while it’s nice enough and has plenty of features, when compared to the Android Auto implementation the system also includes, it feels incredibly dumb. The voice recognition is, as in most vehicles, comically bad, the navigation system suggests ridiculous routes, the music streaming integration requires me to use Napster (!) and the best ‘connected’ features require an ongoing subscription to ‘Audi Connect’ (needless to say, now the 3 months initial free period has passed, I haven’t paid to keep it going).
How well Android Auto works in the car is particularly impressive given the model I have uses Audi’s non-touch MMI interface. Interaction is via a controller between the front seats and controls on the steering wheel. It works very well - I actually prefer it to the touchscreen UI used in my previous car (a Skoda Octavia vRS), mainly because it feels more suited to a car environment and is much more suitable for ‘muscle-memory’ operation. Google have done a good job of making Android Auto work in the non-touch environment.
Android Auto’s UI paradigms are very prescribed and they have to be for a couple of reasons. First up is that need to work well for users without touch... the second is a nod to safety. Fully featured OS’ in the car are somewhat controversial from the perspective of distracted driving and Google may be wise to try and head this off from the start, despite the fact that in reality, it leaves Android Auto more limited than manufacturers’ own solutions (I could happily read RSS feeds on Audi’s system if I wanted to, while driving along. I don’t.)
This cautious approach however causes a bit of a problem in my mind. Android Auto is missing the best feature of Android... openness. Can I install apps for my car experience? Yes, as long as they are music or messaging apps in the Play Store. Can I write an app myself and deploy it such that I can use it in my car? No, not easily, and definitely not if it doesn’t fall within one of the above categories. Can I switch the mapping app from Google Maps (even though it’s excellent, there are other great navigation apps such as Here or Co-Pilot)? No, although Google owned Waze will be supported soon, it isn’t yet.
Don’t get me wrong, as I said at the start of the article, I really love Android Auto – having tried Apple’s CarPlay I feel it’s far superior – but it’s just not everything it really could be and there’s no sign of Google tweaking their approach in a forthcoming release. The possibilities for the platform are vast – I can already think of a bunch of apps I’d personally love to see on Auto – Glympse, OBD apps, eco-driving / insurer apps, dashcam / reversing cam apps, Duolingo – my language learning tool, Swarm, Weatherpro... heck, while I’m stationary (and Auto knows this of course by virtue of its extensive integration with the car systems), why can’t I watch Netflix on my in car display?
Google is on to a good thing with Android Auto. Just like the forthcoming Home products, it is naturally a powerful opportunity to make the most of the inherent intelligence and voice prowess of Google's platform.
I just hope that Android Auto becomes more Android and less Auto, sooner rather than later.
Edited by PaulOBrien