The voice commands, Google Maps, Waze, phone calls, the messaging app, all have encountered various problems in the last 12 months or so on Android Auto, and in some cases, things haven’t even returned to normal despite Google itself stepping in and providing official fixes.
This is the reason many consider CarPlay as the more reliable alternative to Android Auto, as Apple’s walled garden more or less pays off here. There’s not much you can change about CarPlay, and given everything is deeply baked into the OS, something Google is now trying with Android Auto too since Android 10, the experience is as straightforward as possible.
But the future looks bright for Android Auto, and while for some it might sound unbelievable, 2021 is likely to be a big year in terms of improvements and new features.
First of all, it’s the new wallpaper support whose release is just imminent. Google will soon allow users to choose a new background for the Android Auto home screen, and the company has even included a new pack of images specifically for this purpose in the most recent update.
Once this feature goes live, users will be allowed to simply choose a new wallpaper from the settings screen on Android Auto, pretty much like those on CarPlay can already do if their iPhones run iOS 14.
As everybody knows already, the Google Assistant integration in Android Auto is an essential feature of the experience behind the wheel, and it’s all for a good reason. With voice commands, users can interact with Android Auto completely hands-free, and this is so important when driving simply because it reduces the distraction and helps keep the eyes on the road.
And while the interaction with Google Assistant has been far from flawless lately, the Mountain View-based search is working not only on polishing everything but also on adding new capabilities.
One of them is support for shortcuts, which would essentially allow users to create icons on the Android Auto home screen for certain operations they want the Assistant to perform automatically. Furthermore, Google is also working on custom routines for Google Assistant, and these two updates are projected to launch later this year as well.
Teardowns of the latest Android Auto updates have also indicated that Google might be working on a native way of handling text messages. In other words, Android Auto could get a new UI to manage and compose messages, with an SMS app to be pinned to the home screen specifically for this purpose. However, the work on this app is believed to be in the early stages, so expect it to land at a later time.
Android Auto is also getting other smaller refinements that would help further refine the experience with the app overall. For example, more head units would have a dedicated “exit” icon allowing users to close the app from the home screen – some already do, but Google most likely wants every user out there, regardless of the head unit, car make, and model, to get such a feature.
Android Auto currently doesn’t work when a VPN connection is active, and it’s believed Google would add more warnings in this regard, therefore offering a more straightforward experience when connecting smartphones to the car.
In addition, Google is also working on improving how Android Auto works on widescreens, as well as on other features not necessarily bundled with the app but related to the experience it offers. For example, Android Auto could sooner or later highlight the new driving mode bundled with Google Maps and which right now is available in a preview stage in the United States – this, however, is more likely to take place for users running Android Auto on their phones.
New app categories are coming too, such as EV tools, and third-party navigation apps are also allowed on Android Auto, with Sygic one of the big names currently testing such an update. Major releases are therefore expected to be announced later this year.
Overall, Google is working on polishing the app on several fronts, and if everything goes according to the plan, Android Auto would eventually become the stable and reliable platform users expect it to be. For now, however, the only thing we can do is to wait and hope Google doesn’t change its mind on the future of Android Auto overnight.