Android Auto is barely two years old, but already good enough that we see people asking for it when they're shopping for a new car. Soon, it'll get even better, with a raft of new features that will make the service work in any car -- even without wires.
Android Auto traditionally works with compatible infotainment systems in cars, enabling your Android-powered smartphone to take over the car's built-in display. Once it's connected via USB, users can easily get navigation and hands-free messaging and run hundreds of apps such as Spotify in a legal, distraction-free way.
Soon, it'll be getting even better. Waze is the chief enhancement, Google's community-driven navigation app.
Waze has "a very large and a very active user base, a very committed user base, and they've been calling out to be able to use that in Android Auto," Patrick Brady, director of Android engineering, told me. "We're working with the Waze team to make that happen."
Waze hasn't been in Android Auto previously because of the system's use of predefined templates that all apps must fit within. For this release, a new template has been released, meaning you'll have your choice of basic Google Maps navigation or Waze, the latter of which will include all the things that have made it so popular on phones, including easy viewing of incidents reported by other Wazers and the ability to quickly and easily report new incidents via voice or easy touch.
Waze will likely be the most significant app adding Android Auto support this year, but the service itself is about to receive numerous major updates, including the ability to work without a compatible car. Currently, if you want to use Android Auto you need to buy a new car or add a compatible head unit to your ride. Soon, you'll be able to run Android Auto directly on your phone, meaning you could clip it to your dashboard and have access to all the compatible apps and voice-driven power.
"The interface will be tailored for the phone," Brady said, "but immediately recognizable as Android Auto."
Android Auto is also getting easier to use with just your voice, adding hot-wording support. While in the car, you'll be able to just say something like, "OK, Google, take me home." The phone will always be listening.
Finally, if you're sick of plugging in your phone (and if it has a really robust battery), Android Auto will now work wirelessly over Wi-Fi -- in compatible cars, at least.
Android Auto is already launched in about 100 models, "but by the end of the year we expect for that number to at least double," Brady told me. "In automotive terms it's pretty quick." With the addition of Waze, not to mention the ability to work in any car, expect to be seeing a lot more of Android Auto for the rest of the year.