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Android Auto: Your phone will be a part of the car

Google has rolled out Android Auto in 19 more countries, including India. Here is what to expect

Google’s Android Auto in-car infotainment platform is now heading to even more countries. This means that car makers who are selling vehicles in Russia, India, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, and some countries in Latin America, will now be able to offer Android Auto as a standard option with the in-car entertainment setup.

What is Android Auto?

Car infotainment systems have been becoming smarter with time, with better touchscreens, improved software and even more enhanced media and navigation capabilities. However, none of those software platforms was truly smart, being proprietary solutions limited to each manufacturer’s products. But that was till 2014, when Apple launched the CarPlay platform, for in-car infotainment systems. It was based on the iOS software that runs on iPhones, and allows the phone to plug into the car’s system and replicate a lot of the functionality on that system’s screen by allowing app access. Not long after, Google rolled out the Android Auto solution—it worked in the same way, and made a user’s Android smartphone integral to the car. The basic premise being to allow phone control and functionality though the in-car infotainment system’s touchscreen, without the driver ever having to pick up or look down at the phone itself.

What does Android Auto do?

Android Auto blends the interface of existing apps such as Google Now and retains the Material Design language of Android Lollipop. Google’s own apps such as Maps and Music integrate smoothly with the infotainment system in the car, to offer navigation and music playback, respectively. It also integrates with the messages and phone apps, to allow notifications and hands-free calling and message readouts. Voice search is built-in, allowing you to command the phone to execute certain tasks, such as check the weather or call someone.

What other apps run on this?

At present, apps such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio are some of the popular apps that are compatible with Android Auto. However, we do not know which apps available in India will work with the platform, something that only time will reveal in due course.

Can my car get Android Auto?

Yes and no. If you own a Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Ciaz or Ertiga, with the SmartPlay infotainment system preloaded (it already runs Apple CarPlay), you will be eligible for a free software upgrade that also adds the Android Auto capability. No word yet on when this will happen, but should be rolled out over the next few weeks.

If you are in the market for a new car this year, some of the 2016 launches from Hyundai, Suzuki, Honda, Audi, Mahindra, Renault, Skoda and Volkswagen will offer Android Auto capabilities, though exact model details and launch timelines have not been announced yet.

If you want to upgrade the infotainment system in your car, Pioneer and Kenwood are offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible systems in India.

Does it work with a specific phone?

As long as you have an Android phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop (settings -> About -> software), you are all set. Download the free Android Auto app from the Play Store on the device, and plug it into the car’s infotainment system.

We started using the Apple CarPlay solution in the 2016 Suzuki Ciaz, and it is genuinely addictive—so much so that the fairly capable media playback system offered by the Hyundai Elantra seems quite rudimentary in comparison. It is all about the convenience of being able to play music, use navigation and also make/receive calls without having to pick up the phone, and that is something you will get used to quicker than you imagine.

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