553 – Android Autobahn

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20 years ago, if you had a satellite navigation in your car, it would probably be driven by a CD of map data, and it would be slow and expensive. By comparison, today’s in-car entertainment and navigation feels like a scene from Tomorrow’s World.

clip_image004If you’re a car-owning Android phone user, it’s worth looking into the Android Auto ecosystem. At a high level, Android Auto is like Apple CarPlay – a way of projecting apps from your phone to a screen in your car, and interacting with them through the car’s own UI – be that touch, buttons or speech. Some cars will allow your phone to connect wirelessly, while others may require it to be plugged in.

clip_image006If you have an older car – or you didn’t fork out on the options list to add CarPlay/Android Auto to your more recent one (like the £3K option price on a £170K Ferrari) – it’s still possible to run Android Auto on your phone while in the car.

The main Android Auto app can either be run manually or set to start automatically when the phone connects to your car’s Bluetooth system.

The app displays a simplified arms-reach or voice-driven UI, showing navigation, telephone and music apps, and the settings allow for a good amount of choice – Waze or Google Maps, Spotify or Amazon Music etc.

Assuming you’re clip_image008going to cradle it, you’d treat it like you might use a fitted satnav system – albeit one which uses the phone’s network to show real-time traffic news, updates maps dynamically and freely rather than the eye-watering prices to update software and maps on installed systems.

There are 120-odd Android Auto compatible apps, so even if you don’t see their UI on the main menu, you could respond (with voice) to incoming messages on WhatsApp, or choose to listen to podcasts with Stitcher as one of several interchangeable “music” apps.

If your car does support Android Auto (check compatibility here) then it might take a bit of experimenting to understand how to connect it and how to get the car’s display to show the app outputs, though the results are largely the same as what you’d see if you just ran the host Android Auto app on your phone screen directly.

You might be able to replace the satnav system in an older car with one which does support Android Auto – see here for some ideas – as aftermarket satnavs are increasingly simple, ditching a CD/DVD player and maybe not even having a radio tuner – perhaps all you need in your car stereo is a 7” screen to which your phone connects, and an amplifier. Some retro-fit satnav systems use Android as their own OS, and offer a whole host of Carlos Fandango features for little more than the cost of a maps update for an older in-car system.

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