What Android Auto 8.0 has in Store for the Future

/ / Car Accessories
Android Auto on BMW

By now, Android has gone through many incarnations, moving beyond what Google envisioned and officially supported. Not all of these Android-based variants are created equal, of course, and some look and feel more polished than others. Unfortunately, that also applies to Google’s own Android spin-offs, some of which seem to be getting left by the wayside. Whether it’s Android TV, Wear OS, or Android Auto, there seem to be some lingering doubts about Google’s long-term commitment to these platforms. That said, Android TV got a breath of fresh air with the new Google TV experience, and Wear OS is experiencing a renaissance. That leaves Android Auto as the odd one out, which is very palpable in its latest major release.

Android Auto, which is related to but distinct from Android Automotive, is the simplest way to connect your phone to a compatible car head unit. Whether through a USB cable or wireless connection, you can take advantage of the navigation and entertainment apps on your smartphone without having to bother with its small screen. Unfortunately, Android Auto has a rather poor history when it comes to reliability and stability, especially when Google pushes breaking changes that take weeks to fix.

At first, it seemed that Google was letting Android Auto languish in lieu of focusing on Android Automotive. A few months back, however, the company sparked hope that the car platform would finally be getting the attention it deserves. With the app’s version 8.0 release, one would presume that it would be a major update that brings promised new features. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Android Auto ambiguity leaves users frustrated

Android Auto smartphone on dashboard

In a nutshell, Android Auto 8.0 contains nothing more than your usual round of bug fixes, according to Android Police. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, considering how unstable the platform has been of late. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like it’s worthy of getting a “point-oh” release if that is all that it contains. Another number in the 7.x series would have probably been less confusing and disappointing.

Android Auto’s remaining fans and users will probably be most disappointed by how Google’s most exciting UI change is still missing in action. After being leaked last year, the split-screen feature codenamed Coolwalk was officially confirmed at I/O last May. It may sound like nitpicking for such a small feature, but it is a barometer of the health of the platform when something as basic as split-screen hasn’t yet made it to Android Auto. Admittedly, it could happen via a server-side change, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication of that happening in this particular 8.0 version of the app.

Making matters worse, 9to5Google reports another breaking update, this time in the form of a 7.8.6 maintenance release. Owners of several phone brands, including a Pixel, are reporting getting “phone not compatible” error messages when trying to use Android Auto after the update. Given the state of the platform over the past two years, the arrival of this bug isn’t too shocking. Unfortunately, it also shows just how much work Google still needs to do to prevent Android Auto from being a laughing stock in the automotive industry.

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