Android Auto to merge with Google Assistant 

Google is overhauling the Android experience behind the wheel, building driving-friendly features directly into the talkative Google Assistant rather than relying on the standalone Android Auto smartphone app.

In addition to the new look (see above), the tech giant is extending Android Auto compatibility to more car infotainment systems, via both wired and wireless smartphone connections, as well ramping up its Android Automotive OS program which runs a full version of Google's mobile operating system on the car itself.

Launching back in 2015, the Android Auto app has offered driving-friendly access to in-car navigation, along with music playback and messaging – building on the in-car navigation features already built into the Google Maps app.

Last year Google added support for Google Assistant to Android Auto, allowing drivers to speak to their phone without taking their hands off the wheel.

This year Google is moving this driving-optimised mode into Android's Google Assistant smartphone app, offering easy voice-controlled access to navigation, music playback and messaging while on the road. These features will also eventually come to the Google Assistant app on iPhones.

Google I/O 2019. All images courtesy Google.

Unveiled at the recent Google I/O 2019 developer conference in Mountain View, California, the overhaul includes improved in-line media controls to reduce the need to jump between features whilst driving, along with support for group messaging.

While users will no longer need to install Android Auto to access the driving-friendly features on Android phones, the app will not be retired as it is still required to power Android Auto running on a car's console display. Phones can be connected via USB cable or wirelessly via Bluetooth — the first cars with wireless Android Auto built-in are shipping later this year to join aftermarket head units from the likes of JVC and Kenwood.

The tech giant still intends to continue its three-pronged approach to using Android behind the wheel: supporting phone-based navigation, in-console Android Auto reliant on a connected smartphone, and Android Automotive OS which runs Google's mobile operating system on the car.

Android Auto – allowing drivers to connect their phone to view navigation on the console – is available in 36 markets. This includes more than 500 cars across more than 50 manufacturers, with five more coming onboard this year including Toyota.

Google's Android Auto OEM partnerships now cover 95 per cent of the industry in terms of new cars sales volume and the feature is expected to be available in 100 million cars across the globe by 2020.

Meanwhile, Android Automotive OS – which doesn't rely on a connected phone – is also expanding to more vehicles after debuting on the Volvo XC40 last year. This year, the Google I/O developer conference saw it running on Volvo's Polestar 2, with Audi also onboard and more manufacturers on the way including Fiat Chrysler and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

As Android Automotive OS comes to more vehicles, Google is adding a more elegant interface with support for dark themes, new fonts and colour accents. In terms of hardware, it is adding support for a wider variety of screen sizes and configurations, along with a wider range of input devices such as in-car touchpads.

Adam Turner travelled to Google I/O in California as a guest of Google.