There is a lot of confusion about Android Auto and the Android Headunit, and this could be due to the multi-purpose use that the name ‘Android Auto’ has now become. Hopefully, we can help clarify the meanings of ‘Android Auto’ and how they are used when linked to ‘car radio’ or ‘car head-unit sales pitches.
In the beginning
Vehicle manufacturers started producing vehicles that had large display screens. These infotainment units were custom software and hardware made for the manufacturers. They were incompatible with manufacturers and couldn’t or didn’t run Android OS. They became outdated quickly; SatNav maps were expensive because the manufacturers could hold you to ransom. You couldn’t just install a different map or a new app. You have to pay the manufacturer for an update.
The Big G wanted their Maps and store apps used on these incompatible screens in all these new cars. The solution was to mirror the Android phone screen onto the infotainment unit in the car, bringing google maps and their car apps to the in-car display.
Smoke and Mirrors
Android Auto was installed on the phone and mirrored to the car screen.
The phone, the clever device with free maps and Android apps, does all the work, route planning, and getting traffic data. The infotainment screen becomes a dumb terminal.
Android Auto was an uncluttered and driver-friendly car launcher. It was ideally suited to the job. But it had its limitations, being bound to the phone.
Now, this is where the confusion starts. The explosion of Android headunits, which can run Android apps with a fast processor and plenty of RAM, came with the ability to run Android Auto. No phone is required! No mirroring is needed, just an Android app on an Android device. You can run Android Auto on an Android Headunit. The original car launcher. These are just the features you need while driving or in the car. Easy to access and a clear, uncluttered display with good-sized buttons.
Should you run Android Auto on your Android headunit?
Yes, of course. It is a very minimalistic and well-integrated Car Launcher. As you would expect from Google, it supports Google Maps, Waze, voice commands, and many other useful in-car features. It doesn’t have the pretty screen or vehicle logos, but it does have a digital clock and the killer app – voice commands.
Android Headunit Tip
It is easy to revert to factory or has several launchers installed and to switch between them to find the one that suits you best.
Android Auto is available for your Android Headunit on the Play Store.
The setup will also try to install any missing apps. The apps are the ones the headunit needs to function as an Android Auto, so ensure there is a data connection during setup to allow for the full AA experience.
While you can also install it on your phone, you probably don’t need to because any reasonable Android headunit can connect to the Play Store and install Google Maps or just about any other app your phone could.