Google is slowly making Android Automotive cooler than Android Auto

While Polestar and Volvo were the pioneers of Android Automotive, Google hasn’t necessarily convinced automakers to mass adopt the operating system. Honda, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Renault are among the biggest names that have already partnered with Google to put the operating system in their cars, and the search giant expects adoption to double by the end of the year.

The Mountain View-based company is already working around the clock to improve Android Automotive, despite the rather slow introduction.

This year’s I/O event was a living testament to Google’s commitment to improving Android Automotive over the long term. Features like YouTube support, smart message replies, and games improve Android Automotive in terms of communication and entertainment, ultimately giving it a huge edge over Android Auto.

Photo: Polestar

Android Auto vs Android Automotive
Android Auto and Android Automotive are two separate platforms, and while the naming approach might be confusing for some users, they define different systems with different capabilities.

On the one hand, Android Auto is Google’s smartphone projection system. It’s a CarPlay alternative, so whatever’s playing on the screen is powered by the mobile device itself. Therefore, the Android device must be connected to the head unit in the car at all times. A compatible media receiver is also required.

Android Automotive is a full-featured operating system. So instead of relying on a mobile phone, it is installed in the car at the hardware level. Android Automotive is thus responsible for the entire infotainment system and offers one-touch access to music, navigation and everything else.

As it is the native software supporting the infotainment functions, Android Automotive also has advanced features including deeper integration into the vehicle. Google Assistant can control systems like the air conditioning, allowing drivers to adjust the interior temperature by voice.

Photo: Polestar

The new improvements
Android Auto has long been Google’s superstar and the latest stats from Google show that its adoption has been steadily increasing lately.

According to Google, over 200 million cars will be equipped with Android Auto by the end of the year and the redesigned user interface, also known as Coolwalk, will be available on all devices in 2023.

But now it’s time for Android Automotive to get more attention, and several big features were introduced with the I/O announcement.

The first of these is the YouTube app. The YouTube app is already available in Polestar and Volvo cars and allows users to watch videos when the vehicle is parked. YouTube support has long been a top feature request for Android Auto too, but Google has so far ignored the whole thing. As such, Android Automotive will be available exclusively on YouTube, and unfortunately there is no indication that Android Auto support is planned.

In a way, there’s nothing stopping Google from launching YouTube on Android Auto. The app can still be blocked when the vehicle starts moving, just as it now works when typing. But on the face of it, Google only wants to keep YouTube exclusive to give automakers and customers an incentive to opt for its operating system.

Photo: Screenshot from the GMC Hummer EV channel

The Mountain View-based search giant also announced games for Android Automotive. For the first time, owners of cars equipped with Google’s operating system can play games not while driving, but only when the vehicle is parked. This approach makes perfect sense given that you want the driver’s eyes on the road at all times, but the games would certainly come in handy when waiting to pick up the kids from school.

If you’ve used Android Auto before, you probably already know that games have been available on the platform for a while. Google is just trying to take the best of Android Auto and bring it to Android Automotive. In a way, this makes Android Auto a donor platform, or as some call it, a test bed that gives Google a chance to try out its ideas before they’re mature enough for an operating system like Android Automotive.

Another feature that seems to support this approach is support for Google Assistant smart message replies. Thanks to this feature, which will also be coming to Android Automotive later this year, users will receive relevant reply suggestions based on the messages they receive while driving. When someone texts you asking you out, Google Assistant suggests meaningful replies, and you can reply to the message with just a tap, without having to pick up the phone.

This feature is already available on Android Auto but is now being migrated to Android Automotive.

Ultimately, Google undoubtedly wants to make Android Automotive the number one choice for automakers and drivers worldwide. The push will take time, but with improvements like these, Android Automotive has a good chance of quickly gaining market share.