Earlier this week news broke that Google was killing off the Assistant Driving Mode feature at some point in February. Apparently a banner was spotted claiming the feature was being killed off, with no further details or elaboration. Google has now said that this isn’t officially the case — but it might as well be.
Speaking to 9to5Google, Google confirmed that Assistant’s Driving Mode wasn’t actually going anywhere, However the “App Launcher” feature is being removed, which is part of a larger cull of Assistant features Google says very few people actually use.
That was announced back in mid-January, but the language of the announcement didn’t really emphasize how big a change this was actually going to be.
Currently Assistant’s Driving Mode lives as a black bar in the Google Maps app, featuring a microphone, a return to Maps shortcut and a 2x2 square grid. This grid opens up a driving-friendly interface complete with access to various apps alongside shortcuts for calls and messaging. That way you have access to things like media apps, but in a way that isn’t going to distract you from the road ahead.
The changes happening on February 7 mean that this driving-friendly interface is being killed off in favor of a voice-only control system. Plus quick media controls in the black bar itself. In other words, this means Google isn’t technically killing off Assistant’s Driving Mode in full, it is removing the only features that make it worth having.
The whole point of Driving Mode, like the standalone Android Auto app it replaced, is that it lets you use your phone as a driving tool far more easily. Organizing all the useful features onto a single screen, and making it easily accessible from Google Maps’ navigation screen.
It’s the kind of thing that’s incredibly important if you are in a car that doesn’t have access to Android Auto. Because forcing people to either navigate through additional menus or use voice commands will be a danger.
Either because they’re fiddling with their phones to do something, or they’re distracted by the fact Google Assistant doesn’t know what it wants. Because let’s be honest here, Google Assistant's voice controls don't always run smoothly in the car.
Phones can do a lot of great things when you’re driving, but they can also be a major distraction. Considering how much stuff has been crammed into modern cars, the last thing we need is for Google to make Android phones more distracting to drivers.
So what if it’s a feature only a minority of people use? It’s important to those that do, and unless there’s a genuine replacement already available it’s crazy that Google would even consider getting rid of the Driving Mode app launcher.
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