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Android Auto update makes messaging easier, paves way for more customization

Better browsing, smarter messaging and easier pairing are just a few of the features coming to Android Auto this summer.

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Google

Google just announced a handful of new features coming to its Android Auto smartphone mirroring app for cars, including improvements to messaging, media browsing and customization. Announced as part of a broader wave of Android updates on The Keyword blog Tuesday morning, the new Android Auto features will roll out to devices sometime this summer.

Last month, at its I/O 2021 developer conference, Google showcased a new Fast Pairing feature and new multiscreen projection enhancements coming to future cars using Android Auto -- cars such as BMW's upcoming iX EV. Today's announced updates are smaller, incremental quality-of-life tweaks to features found in today's cars and phones using the app mirroring tech.

First up is the ability to read and send messages directly from WhatsApp, Google's native Messages SMS app and similar messaging apps, presumably while parked or stopped. There's a new button in the top-right corner of most texting apps that allows you to initiate a new message. After tapping, say the name of your desired contact and then dictate the message to Google Assistant. It's a small change that at first doesn't appear to do anything that the current "Hey Google, text Tim" voice command doesn't already do, but this could help clear up confusion whether that text will go out via, say, Google Messages or Facebook Messenger by allowing the you to simply initiate the chat from the desired service.

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Android Auto is now available on more cars (and bikes) than ever.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

New navigation, parking and electric car charging apps are also coming online and available to use in Android Auto, providing "new app experiences to help enhance your drive," according to the announcement on Google's Android blog. These new apps are likely coming from those early access partnerships -- including Chargepoint, Plugshare, ParkWhiz and SpotHero -- also mentioned during I/O 2021.

Scrolling through long playlists and address books should also be a touch easier with the addition of a new "A to Z" button on the scroll bar as well as a "back to top" button that I'm guessing does exactly what the tin says. New tabs for media apps should also aid browsing and organization.

Meanwhile, the Android Auto app on the host smartphone gains new abilities, like manually setting dark mode. You can also personalize the in-car launcher before hitting the road, but Google isn't saying to what extent just yet. Currently, the app only allows you to hide specific apps from the launcher and change the order in which they appear. However, Android Auto has recently gained the ability to change its wallpaper and the new version of Android 12 comes with a major push towards customization via the Material You design language.

Finally, initial setup should be streamlined, allowing you to get started streaming audio and navigation with fewer taps. As someone who sets up and uses Android Auto in a different car every week -- admittedly that puts me in a niche group -- this is the upgrade I'm personally most excited about.

The new features should be rolling out to the Android Auto interface on phones running Android 6.0 or above this summer.