If you’re like me and you need to use Google Maps to navigate everywhere, including the Jimmy John’s that’s only 1.3 miles away and, like me, you don’t drive a car compatible with Android Auto, you should go ahead and download it right now anyway. That’s because it’s now available to use on your phone, and it’s flipping fantastic.
Android Auto was introduced two years ago as a smarter way to use your phone for media, calls and navigation in your car. It limits the apps you already had on your phone, offering only music, calls and navigation in a simplified user interface designed to keep you more focused on the road and less focused on trying to get back to Spotify to stop that embarrassing Britney Spears hit from 2003 from ruining your friendships.
Anyway, the old problem with Android Auto was that your car’s existing user interface had to be compatible with Android Auto, and it’s safe to assume a lot of people don’t drive a car built in the last two years, leaving them out.
But there’s a new update to fix all that, and now anyone running Android 5.0 or newer on their phone can download the app and use it disconnected from the car. It’s brilliant, and it’s pretty much what Google Maps should have been already.
Launching the Android Auto app immediately displays your default music app information and the last song you played, as well as some of your previous destinations and a quick summary of the weather in your area. You can play your music, make a call and get directions all on one simple screen.
The bottom bar features a button that takes you to the familiar Google Maps, uh, map, a button that takes you to a simplified phone interface featuring your most popular contacts and a large button to easily dial a number, and a button that takes you to whatever media app you like to run like Spotify, Pandora or Google Play Music. Each of these features provide more information than the home screen, but still in a heavily simplified, easy to navigate design.
The Google Maps interface features the new search feature, which helps you easily locate restaurants, gas stations or other locations nearby. The Phone screen’s menu is simplified, but still lets you access voicemail, call history and missed calls. The music app screen, which is Spotify for me, lets you access recently played music, your library, radio and browse.
You can also connect your phone to your car via a wired connection or Bluetooth as well, and it will read back text messages, answer phone calls or give navigation directions to you just like your phone normally would when connected. You can reply to messages using your voice, as well as make common voice commands to call someone by hitting the familiar Google microphone button. The app will also be able to open the command prompt when you say “OK Google” in a soon-to-come update.
The only downside is that once you exit the Android Auto app, your Spotify and Google Maps applications are still running, and you’ll have to manually close out of those as well. But, considering that I’m using Spotify and Maps almost every time I get in the car, having everything in a simplified, smart looking location that’s easier to navigate is a big plus. Android Auto has already replaced the the home screen square that Google Maps used to live in on my phone.
The update will be rolling out over the next few days, and you can sign up to be notified about it on Android’s website.