Google is in a weird place when it comes to its driving apps for Android 10, and it’s about to get weirder. Until the company is able to release its now-delayed Assistant Driving Mode or a stopgap solution it’s still developing, some Android 10 users may be stuck without a driving app for their phone. Unless you count Google Maps, of course.
It’s confusing, and that confusion spread across the Android world yesterday in the wake of a support document Rita El Khoury of Android Police spotted. Google’s document explains how Android 10 users can get the Android Auto app restored to their phones if it’s missing, and it includes references to products that hadn’t yet been announced, much less released. El Khoury rightly points out that it’s vague.
Fortunately, after speaking to Google, we have some answers. But to explain what’s happening, we need to start at the beginning.
Android 10 has a lot of new features, and one of them is that Android Auto is now built-in as a system-level thing instead of as a downloadable app. There are lots of benefits to this method; at the very least it doesn’t require car dealerships to explain how to install apps and it doesn’t ask users to jam through a million permissions.
So far so good, but alongside this move Google decided that Android Auto should only be the software that powers the interface on the head units of cars that support it. Where before there used to be a phone interface for Android Auto for people who have older cars, in Android 10 that has gone away.
GOOGLE WANTS THE ASSISTANT TO RUN EVERYTHING, BUT IT’S NOT READY
The idea was to replace the phone interface with a Google Assistant-powered interface called Assistant Driving mode — that’s the video at the top of the post. Google had promised it would be released this summer — but now there’s no projected release date.
Which leaves the Android Auto team in a pickle: Android 10 users may be stuck without a phone interface when they’re driving. But it gets more complicated than that, because some people may still have the app if they upgraded from Android 9. Google’s support document is targeted at people who lost access to the Android Auto app for one reason or another.
But what that document also says is that Google is going to release a new Android Auto app in the Google Play Store specifically to keep the phone-only interface around. What El Khoury was rightly wondering is just what that app will be.
After speaking to Google, I think the answer is clear: it’s a stopgap. It seems that the Android Auto team is going to be able to get a phone interface out well before the Google Assistant team is going to be able to release the new Assistant Driving Mode.
That version of Android Auto should be basically identical to what existed before, but with one very large caveat: it’s not going to last forever. Google will sunset it as soon as the Assistant-powered interface is ready for wide adoption. Note that that could mean that both apps will co-exist for a time.