In what's turning out to be a trend for Android applications, Google's car home app today became available on the Android Market.
The app, which has come as a built-in system application in Android since version 2.0, lets Android owners use their phone as a GPS tool and a hands-free phone system when attached to something like a car dock. Now it exists as a standalone application that can be updated separately of Android system releases. This means if Google needs to release a quick fix to the app, it doesn't need to push out a new version of the operating system to users on an increasingly diverse number of hardware configurations. The company did the same thing just last week.
To entice people to upgrade from the stock version, Google has thrown in a handful of changes. The biggest one is that users can now rearrange the icons that appear on each page of the application. There were hints of a feature like this coming with version 2.2 of Android (nicknamed "Froyo"), including some empty spaces, but no way to fill them with anything. Now the car app gives you two extra empty pages to add things like navigation routes, direct dialing to favorite contacts, and shortcuts to other Android applications. These are things you could have accessed from your phone's home screen, but not without fumbling to exit the car home screen, then hopping back into it--not the kind of thing you want to deal with while driving.
Other new features in this release include a way to change the colors of the shortcut icons and add personalized wallpaper (in case you're unhappy with the black background), as well as a new launcher that will automatically flip on your phone's Bluetooth radio when you launch the car home app, or start the car phone app when a paired Bluetooth device gets into range.
To grab the app, just snap the QR code to the right, or follow this link from your Android device.