That won't be the case for much longer. Yesterday, Google announced that a new, redesigned version of Android Auto would start appearing in cars this summer, and wouldn't you know it: The company set up a 2020 Hyundai Kona on-site at its I/O developer conference, complete with new (but not quite final) software. As someone whose experience with Android Auto is mostly limited to rental cars, even I found some elements of the original Android Auto design maddening. Thankfully, this new software addresses a lot of those pain points, mostly because it doesn't feel like it was designed for a car.
"After many years and a lot of customer feedback, we understood that users don't want yet another experience they have to learn," said Rod Lopez, Google's Android Auto product manager, in an interview. "They would like to stick to the models they know and understand, particularly the one on the phone."
With "Android" in the name, you might expect Android Auto to already act like a smartphone. After all, it takes what's happening on your phone and translates it to run on your car's center display. The reality wasn't nearly as elegant, though: When you connect your phone to the car, Android Auto springs to life with a dated, card-centric interface that looks like it came straight out of Lollipop. If you were listening to something before plugging the phone in, it just stops. And perhaps most frustrating of all, you never really have an easy way to access all your Android Auto-friendly apps.
Those earlier version of Android Auto felt unpolished, which Lopez attributes to the team's desire to build the proper foundation first. "I think back when we designed the first version of Android Auto: The emphasis was on making a product that was somewhat limited in functionality," he said. "So that we could make sure it was the right experience for driving."
The experience was right in a way, because it gave Google the opportunity to learn how to tune Android for cars displays. But it's only now that Android Auto is starting to feel nuanced. Complete.