Android Auto vs Android Automotive: What’s the Difference?

Android Auto and Android Automotive are two confusingly named Google products that allow you to use your phone hands-free in your vehicle. Android Auto mirrors your phone on your vehicle’s integrated display, while Android Automotive is an operating system that runs directly on a vehicle’s head unit. Because of the common Android ancestry, they share a lot in common, but they are two very different solutions to the same problem.

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Android Auto

Runs on your phone and connects to a vehicle’s head unit.

Requires a head unit compatible with Android Auto.

Available in most new cars and trucks.

Requires an Android phone running Android 8 or later.

Works with a variety of map apps.

Some features are available through Google Assistant driving mode without requiring a connection to a head unit.

Requires a data plan or mobile hotspot.

Android Automotive

Operating system based on Android.

Runs directly on a head unit or tablet.

Limited availability.

Works with both iPhones and Android phones.

Fully integrated into the vehicle.

Runs a limited set of Android apps.

Controls heating and air conditioning, radio, rear entertainment and other functions.

Navigation is limited to Google Maps.

Android Auto and Android Automotive are both based on Android and both offer the ability to use your phone in the car, but differ in the way they achieve that goal. While Android Auto connects your phone to the head unit in your vehicle, Android Automotive runs on the head unit and does not require a phone to operate.

Android Auto works by connecting your phone to a compatible vehicle head unit and mirroring your phone on the head unit display. Your phone controls everything, with visual aspects on the head unit display and audio components like music and phone calls coming through the car’s speakers.

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Android Automotive is an operating system based on Android. It is designed for installation in vehicle head units, where it replaces a manufacturer’s infotainment software. For example, Ford uses Android Automotive in several vehicles instead of its Sync system. Navigation and other apps run directly on the head unit and you can connect an Android phone or iPhone for hands-free calls.

Voice control: Android Automotive offers full integration

Android Auto

Uses Google Assistant.

Controls navigation, phone, SMS, music and other apps by voice.

Vehicle features or functions such as air conditioning cannot be controlled.

Android Automotive

Uses Google Assistant.

Controls navigation, phone, SMS, music and other apps by voice.

Full integration allows you to control vehicle systems such as air conditioning.

Android Auto and Android Automotive use Google Assistant for voice control to perform the same tasks. Both systems allow you to set and change navigation routes, make and receive phone calls, and send and receive texts using voice commands. However, Android Auto is limited to controlling your phone and the apps running on it, while Android Automotive is integrated with all systems in the vehicle. Android Automotive lets you control systems like heating and air conditioning, radio, and other entertainment options with voice commands.

Navigation and apps: Android Auto is more flexible

Android Auto

By default, uses Google Maps for navigation.

Various alternative map apps are available.

Works with a variety of Android apps.

Apps are installed on your phone.

Android Automotive

By default, uses Google Maps for navigation.

Alternative map apps cannot be used.

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Only works with a limited number of Android apps.

Apps must be installed directly on the Android Automotive device.

Android Auto and Android Automotive use Google Maps by default, but Android Auto is more flexible. Android Auto works with various alternative navigation apps like Waze and MapQuest, while Android Automotive doesn’t offer the same level of flexibility. For example, Waze is available in some vehicles that use Android Automotive but don’t have all the functionality of the stock Android app.

Android Automotive is also significantly more limited when it comes to apps. Although the operating system is based on Android and you can download and install apps, the selection of apps is much smaller than the library available on other Android devices. The other difference is that Android Auto installs apps directly on your phone while Android Automotive installs apps on the head unit in your vehicle.

Phone Compatibility: Android Automotive works with iPhones

Android Auto

Requires a phone running Android 8.0 or later.

Wireless connections require Android 11.0 or later.

Some Samsung phones running Android 9.0 also support wireless connections.

Android Automotive

Works with Android phones.

Works with iPhones.

Connects via Bluetooth.

One of the most significant differences between the two is that Android Auto only works with Android phones, while Android Automotive works with both Android and iPhones. Android Auto mirrors your Android phone, while Android Automotive is a standalone operating system that doesn’t require a phone to function. You can connect an Android phone or iPhone via Bluetooth for hands-free calling, but the phone itself doesn’t run apps or perform any functions beyond phone calls and texting.

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Final verdict: Android Auto is more widespread

Android Automotive offers some key advantages over Android Auto. It runs right on a vehicle’s head unit, so it’s built into the vehicle and allows things like the climate control to be controlled via voice commands, which isn’t possible with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It also doesn’t require a phone and works equally well with Android phones and iPhones. The catch is that it doesn’t integrate with your phone like Android Auto and CarPlay, as it runs apps directly on the vehicle’s head unit rather than your phone.

Android Auto has a number of advantages, the main one being its wide availability. Most new vehicles support Android Auto and CarPlay, while Android Automotive is only available in a few vehicles. Android Auto also works with a much wider variety of apps, with the crucial option of using many different navigation apps.


How do I turn off Android Auto and Android Automotive?

You can disconnect your phone from Android Auto either by disconnecting it from the car or by disconnecting the Bluetooth connection. To turn off Android Automotive, you need to turn off your car’s console.

How do I update Android Auto?

In Android 10 and later, Android Auto is part of the operating system. It is updated along with regular software updates. In Android 9 and below, Auto is a separate app; You can update it from the Google Play Store.

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