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Google rolling out Android Auto updates, launches digital phone key

Google's latest feature drop streamlines launching Android Auto and lets BMW owners unlock and start their car with a tap of their phone.

James Martin/CNET

This morning, Google rolled out a host of updates for various Android apps and services, including a few new automotive-related features for the Android Auto app mirroring software and the newest Android phones.

Android Auto is gaining new features to make hitting the road easier, including a new auto-launch setting that automatically starts the dashboard interface as soon as the phone is connected to the car. A new always-on play button will also be added to the home screen, allowing users to queue up their favorite tunes with a single tap. 

Google is also rolling out enhancements to Android Auto's voice search. You should be able to tap and just say the name of an artist or song to start listening, rather than the whole "Listen to The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret by Queens of the Stone Age on Spotify" rigmarole. At least, that's the promise. You'll probably still need to clarify for songs with common titles -- did you mean Jump by Kriss Kross, Van Halen or the Pointer Sisters?

Google Assistant's Smart Reply functionality hits the road sometime in the coming months.


Meanwhile, Google is making it easier to respond to text messages, integrating Google Assistant's Smart Reply shortcuts into Android Auto for compatible apps. If the Assistant detects a question in an incoming message, a new notification shade slides in from the bottom of the screen with one-tap responses like "yes," "no" or "on my way." Google says to expect this feature to begin rolling out in the coming months. 

Finally, the previously announced digital car key feature is finally available, but only on Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 devices and only select countries. People who use these devices, and who also happen to own a compatible BMW, should soon be able to lock, unlock and start their car with a tap of their phone.

Android Digital Car Key

Google announced Android 12's digital car key feature at its I/O developers conference earlier this year.