Google just released a new self-contained version of Android Auto that runs on an Android smartphone without a specially equipped head unit. The term “head unit” is auto industry jargon for car stereo or infotainment system. Android Auto 2.0 locks the smartphone and changes the user interface (UI) controls to voice and large icons that the driver can interact within about the time that it takes to change a radio station. It is the safest way to drive and use a smartphone to because it reduces driver distraction.
In 2015, 2,357 more people died in traffic accidents due to distracted driving after a five-decade trend of declining fatalities, according to the Department of Transportation. Though everyone condemns texting, selecting playlists and checking Facebook Messenger while driving, most succumb to the temptation of smartphone notifications while driving and cannot resist looking at their smartphone screens—which for some, are fatally long looks.
Many new cars now ship with Android Auto integration. Over 200 new car models support Android Auto. But the life of a car is 12 years, so it will be a long time before all cars are equipped with distraction-reducing, life-saving smartphone integration.
I’ve had a Pioneer AVH-4100NEX after-market head unit installed for over a year and reviewed it in February (Pioneer's Android Auto-compatible head unit bridges convenience and safety). Frequently I rent cars during business travel, most not equipped with Android Auto integration. Driving feels unsafe, despite the use of a Bluetooth headset because the UI isn’t designed to be used while driving.
Android Auto 2.0 lets you control your phone hands-free
With this new version of Android Auto, all drivers with an Android phone can put their phone down, make calls, send and receive texts, navigate and play music with their favorite app—all hands-free. Android Central compiled a list of apps that have been integrated with the Android Auto UI.
Shown in the image above are the large icons and big, bold, easy-to-read notifications. It reduces the temptation to pick up the smartphone because the driver is locked out from all apps that do not conform to the Android Auto UI.
Many different smartphone dashboard mounts are available for less than $20 that position the phone in the driver’s field of view, putting the large icons within easy reach. They come with many different methods of affixing the mount and phone, such as suction cups that attach to the windshield, and connectors that plug into the CD player furloughed by streaming apps like Spotify, Google Play Music, and Pandora or plug into the car power outlet. This video explains five of the many options for installing a car mount.
I tested a prerelease of Android Auto 2.0. It worked just like the integrated head-unit version. It paired with the car microphone and speakers via Bluetooth. Optionally Android Auto can be configured to automatically start when paired with the car’s Bluetooth. I also tested it with a Bluetooth headset, but the stereo music streaming experience is lost to the headset’s limited single speaker. It also worked with the phone’s microphone and speaker.
Android Auto is free, and dashboard mounts can cost less than $10. There’s no excuse for distracted driving any longer.