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Android Auto’s getting three big upgrades — what you need to know

An image showing a car dashboard running Android Auto
(Image credit: Future)

Android Auto is pretty useful when you’re driving, minimizing distractions and making it safer to use certain key apps. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be improved, and it appears Google has three big Android Auto updates in the works.

The updates are hinted at in the latest build of the Android Auto beta (via Auto Evolution), with a change to the app's UI being the most notable new feature. And with one of Android’s best features, customization, also set to be included, the new version of the app looks like offering some major improvements all round. 

The biggest change coming to Android Auto appears to be a new UI, codenamed Coolwalk. Specifically, this is a button that’s been placed on Android Auto’s navigation bar, and which launches a car-friendly version of Android’s notification center.

Launching the menu lets you see your latest notifications, and a number of quick options to deal with them. Screenshots show a Telegram message with the option to play — presumably by having Google Assistant read the message out — or mute the conversation.

There’s also a music-playback interface, and we’ll no doubt see other options pop up that are more specific to other apps in later versions of this feature. 

The update also appears to show big things coming to Android Auto’s wallpaper feature. 

It's already possible to change the background of Android Auto’s home screen, with a number of options built into the service itself. But the update would increase the number of available wallpapers, and potentially offer some support for retrieving backgrounds from an external server. Beyond the ability to add wallpapers more easily, it’s not clear what this might mean, but there’s a possibility it could involve an auto-changing wallpaper, like that on Windows.

We don't know whether it would also enable users to upload their own wallpapers — something that isn’t an option right now — but if Android Auto can access Google servers for additional backgrounds, we hope that some connectivity with Google Photos would also be included.

The final feature will give users more control over how Android Auto starts when they turn on the engine. 

Right now, Android Auto fires up automatically when your phone connects to the car, but it sounds like there'll also be a new option that defaults to whatever Android Auto’s previous state was when you last turned off the engine. So if it wasn’t running, it won’t run the next time you start up your car. This will be configured from a new app on the Android Auto interface, which you can access through your car’s screen.

These features are still in beta right now, and it’s not clear when they might roll out to the stable version of Android Auto. But it does seem Google has big plans to keep improving the app, and to give users better choice over how it works — which is one of the things that makes Android so great on phones.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.