Make the most of the newly redesigned Android Auto

The latest Android Auto update is one of the biggest yet for Google’s in-car interface, giving users more control than ever over how the software looks on their car dashboard.

If you’re completely new to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, these are the interfaces that appear in compatible vehicles when you plug in your Android or iPhone device. They’re essentially extensions of your phone, giving you access to select apps, including Maps, Music, and Messages.

The internal Google codename for this latest Android Auto update is Coolwalk, although you won’t see it mentioned officially anywhere. It brings with it a split-screen design, optimized widgets, and a new app launcher.

Changing the layout of Android Auto

By default, the Android Auto interface shows you three widgets: a larger map panel, a smaller panel with media playback controls, and a shortcut panel that displays recent destinations in your favorite map app. These widgets represent the apps you’ve recently used in each category, and if you want any of them to go full screen, you can just tap on them.

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The interface also presents a second screen to each media player app you use, which usually shows recommendations for what to play next. You can access it by swiping left or right on its icon. If you don’t use any of the map destination shortcuts while driving, the media app widget will expand to fill this area.

Depending on your car’s dashboard, you’ll also see shortcuts to your most used apps along the side of the widgets or below. Tap one of these shortcut keys to make the selected app fill the screen. You’ll also recognize the colorful microphone icon, which you can tap to give voice commands to the Google Assistant.

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In the lower-left corner of the Android Auto screen, you should also see a monochrome icon that shows either nine dots or two squares and a rectangle, depending on what’s on the screen. Tap it to switch between widget view, full screen view and the app launcher, which shows all the apps available in Android Auto.

Choosing your Android Auto apps

The apps you see in Android Auto are the same apps installed on your phone, but only if they support a car interface. Google Maps is a good example: it’s integral to the Android Auto experience, so you’ll always see it available through the UI in your vehicle.

But maybe you don’t want all the Android Auto-supporting apps you have on your phone cluttering up your car’s dashboard screen. If there are some that you know will never be used on the go, consider decluttering the app launcher by hiding them. You’ll need to set this up on your phone, so don’t do this while driving. In Settings, select Connected Devices, Connection Settings, Android Auto, and Customize Launcher. From there, uncheck the box next to each app that you don’t want to see in the dashboard interface. You’ll find that some tools like Google Maps, Phone, and Settings aren’t optional, so you can’t hide them from the app launcher.

Head back to the Android Auto menu to switch between day and night (dark and light) modes for maps and customize the UI in a variety of other ways. You can also enable taskbar widgets from this menu, which will display a new bar at the bottom of the interface so your media playback controls are always available.

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Adjusting your Android Auto settings You can use your phone to choose which Android Auto-enabled apps appear in the vehicle’s user interface. David Nield

The renewed Android Auto also offers a selection of customizations that you can access from the interface itself. Again, switching takes some focus and concentration. So don’t play around with it while your vehicle is moving. Bring up the app launcher by tapping the nine-dot icon (you may need to access it by tapping the widget icon first) and select Settings.

The first choice of settings includes notifications, allowing you to choose whether to receive notifications when a message arrives on your phone. There is also an option to view the first line of conversations and play a sound on these alerts. If you turn off the Suggestion Cards setting, you won’t see smart prompts like the option to call a contact you communicate with frequently or navigate to a specific home or work address.

[Related: Your Android phone may soon be able to start your car]

Below you can set whether Android Auto starts automatically when it connects and whether the audio you were playing last starts automatically. In our experience, not all media apps obey the rules set by this setting, so audio may still play (or not play) no matter how this option is set.

As well as accessing settings that you can get through the phone (e.g. day and night mode for maps), there is also a wallpaper option. Tap on it and you can access a selection of different patterns and photos. The wallpaper doesn’t appear in the widgets view, but you do see it when you access menus and the app launcher.

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