Android has evolved, moving beyond what Google envisioned and officially supported. Of course, not these Android-based variants are created equal, and some appear and feel more polished than others. Unfortunately, this also applies to Google’s own Android spin-offs, some of which appear to be fading away. There appear to be some lingering doubts about Google’s long-term commitment to these platforms, whether it’s Android TV, Wear OS, or Android Auto. However, with the new Google TV experience, Android TV received a breath of fresh air, and Wear OS is experiencing a renaissance. That leaves Android Auto as the odd one out, as evidenced by its latest major release.
Android Auto is the simplest way to connect your phone to a compatible car head unit. It is related to but distinct from Android Automotive. You can use your smartphone’s navigation and entertainment apps without having to worry about its small screen, whether via USB cable or wireless connection. Unfortunately, Android Auto has a poor track record in terms of dependability and stability, especially when Google makes breaking changes that take weeks to fix.
At first, Google was abandoning Android Auto in favor of focusing on Android Automotive. However, the company sparked hope a few months ago that the car platform would finally receive the attention it deserves. With the release of version 8.0 of the app, one would expect it to be a major update with promised new features. That, unfortunately, could not be further from the truth.
Android Auto ambiguity leaves users frustrated
According to Android Police, Android Auto 8.0 is nothing more than a standard round of bug fixes. On the one hand, given how unstable the platform has been recent, this is a good thing. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem deserving of a “point-oh” release if that’s all it contains. A different number in the 7. x series would have been less perplexing and disappointing.
That Google’s most exciting UI change is still missing will most likely disappoint Android Auto’s remaining fans and users. The split-screen feature codenamed Coolwalk was officially confirmed at I/O last May after being leaked last year. It may appear to be nitpicking for such a minor feature, but that something as basic as split-screen has yet to make its way to Android Auto is a barometer of the platform’s health. It could happen through a server-side change, but there’s no sign of that happening in this particular 8.0 version of the app.
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To make matters worse, 9to5Google reports another bug in the form of a 7.8.6 maintenance release. Owners of several phone brands, including the Pixel, have reported receiving “phone not compatible” error messages after installing the update. Given the platform’s state over the last two years, the appearance of this bug isn’t surprising. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates how much work Google still has to do to keep Android Auto from becoming a laughingstock in the automotive industry.