Android Auto now works in any car--and it's free

November 8, 2016

So far, automakers have done a pretty terrible job of designing infotainment systems. Those systems are so bad, they're causing quality scores to plummet and inspiring unpleasant lawsuits

And yet, automakers stubbornly keep churning out wonky in-dash tech. Toyota went so far as to say that it would never allow third-party software like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on its vehicles. 

Now, Google has done an end-run around Toyota. In fact, it's bypassing all automakers who might generate a bit of extra cash by selling Android Auto as an upgrade.

How? By allowing Android Auto to run as a smartphone app. A free app. 

That's great news--not just for people who find smartphones easier to use than the screens on the center stacks of their cars, but also for folks who drive cars without screens at all. Own a 1992 Toyota Corolla? Congratulations: you can now enjoy Android Auto.

Before you get too excited, though, there are a couple of caveats. Most importantly, to use Android Auto on your phone, you'll need a device running Android--specifically, Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or later. And of course, you'll need the updated Android Auto app, which won't roll out for another few days. (If you're feeling antsy, you can download the current Android Auto app, which will upgrade to 2.0 soon.)

Once you've got all that, just crack open the app, and Android Auto will create a driver-friendly version of the Android operating system you know so well, limiting access to apps that can be used safely on the road. It will also allow you to use voice commands to take calls and send messages, and it will read directions to get you from Point A to Point B. Eventually, you'll be able to use voice commands to access apps, too.

All of which sounds great and raises two interesting questions:

1. Will Apple follow suit and offer CarPlay as a free app, too (much to the dismay of dealers)?

2. Will this finally convince automakers to spend less time on infotainment tech and more time developing self-driving software and electric cars?

 If you've got answers to either of those questions, share them in the comments below.

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