[Updated] Is Google Assistant driving mode (Android Auto for phone screens replacement) a half-baked product?

New updates are being added to the bottom of the story…

Original story (from May 15) follows

Google Assistant driving mode was first unveiled at the I/O 2019 keynote. It came in as a replacement to the popular Android Auto app for phone screens.

As the latter’s name suggests, the app was designed to be used on smartphones. This eliminated the need for interacting with the car’s dashboard when driving and instead, everything happens on the phone.

Basically, this was a simplified Android Auto UI with minimal distraction running directly on a smartphone instead of getting beamed to the dashboard.

Android-Auto-for-phone-screens
Android Auto for phone screens

With the app, one could still navigate using the same Google Assistant voice commands, carry on with the usual messaging and music streaming just like with the fully fledged Android Auto. Reason? They both ran the same software.

Thanks to the new driving-friendly Assistant interface, you can easily get more done while keeping your focus on the road. Use voice to send and receive calls and texts, quickly review new messages across your messaging apps in one place, and get a read-out of your texts so you don’t need to look down at your phone—Assistant will even alert you to an incoming call so you can answer or decline with voice. You can also play media from hundreds of providers around the globe, including YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Podcasts and many more.
Source

However, in typical fashion, Google decided that it was time to kill the Android Auto app for phone screens in favor of Assistant driving mode.

While no doubt Google was looking to become more helpful to car drivers with this move, not everyone is in agreement with this decision.

Google Assistant driving mode was supposed to be this superior Android Auto for phone screens replacement that many expected would address some of Android Auto’s shortcomings. But it’s become even more problematic than anticipated.

Here at PiunikaWeb, we’ve highlighted a couple of issues affecting the platform. Several users have reported about an issue with Assistant driving mode not turning off for whatever reason.

There are also plenty of others that have aired their distaste for the lack of landscape mode support when using driving mode.

Google-Assistant-driving-mode
(Source)

Android Auto is known to have issues with Google Assistant, and since the new driving mode is heavily reliant on voice commands, some users are reporting the usual issues seen before.

There are also reports of driving mode randomly activating for some Pixel owners even when turned off. For others, they get to deal with the “driving app” constantly running in the background.

Even more frustrating is that some Assistant driving mode users are now reporting that it’s not working properly with Google Maps, an app that’s vital for navigation.

I have a Pixel 6 and it is fully updated to the Feb 2022 security patch. When I activate Assistant driving mode everything works fine except Google Maps. If I attempt to navigate or open the app drawer and tap on Maps, it will load the regular version of google Maps. So I will either be in navigation mode with the old icons across the bottom, or I’ll just be in regular Google maps. There is no option to go back to Assistant driving mode.

The app drawer is no longer visible and I have to activate Assistant Driving mode a second time to get back to the Driving mode home screen. The buttons across the bottom do nothing. Tapping the phone icon exits to my home screen.l (the phone home screen). Tapping the music button exits to my home screen as well. These seem to still be the controls for Android Auto.
Source

We’ve also encountered plenty of cases where some Android Auto users have expressed their dissatisfaction with the new driving mode, citing Google’s habit of unnecessarily replacing working apps/features with broken ones.

Google-Assistant-driving-Android-Auto
(Source)

Some even argue that this hot mess of a driving mode is probably because none of those at Google working on Assistant driving mode have ever driven a car.

Do you think anyone involved in making Assistant Driving Mode has ever driven a car? It would explain a lot if not
Source

We also have cases of those with compatible devices but driving mode is completely missing. While this can be easily attributed to the limited availability of the feature, those affected are residents in supported regions, namely Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, UK, and U.S.

Again, Google had good motives when deprecating Android Auto for phone screens in favor of Assistant driving mode. But clearly, there’s still plenty of negative energy around this feature three years after its initial launch.

Is this because we are looking at a downgraded product from Google in terms of usability? Or is it because most people simply hate change?

Most will agree that Google Assistant driving mode doesn’t bring any revolutionary features compared to Android Auto for phone screens. The things it does could still be done via the dedicated app.

Android-Auto-for-phone-screens-1

And the fact that it’s still buggy and annoying to use makes it a less desirable proposition for those coming from Android Auto for phone screens.

If anything, Google only reduced the number of apps to install on phones by one. But in doing so, the company ended up with a half-baked product that still needs plenty of refinements to work flawlessly. Or close to flawless.

I expected Google to announce improvements to the Assistant driving mode at the I/O 2022, but unfortunately, at least at the time of writing, not much has come out in this regard.

Hopefully, Google will keep putting more effort into not only making driving mode more functional and useful to those behind the wheel, but also less buggy. Of course, this may take some time, but I can wait.

Let us know your thoughts on Google Assistant driving mode in the comments section below. Also, feel free to vote on our Twitter poll as well, with the results to be revealed after a week.

Update 1 (May 22)

The results for the poll are out, with over 66% voters saying they don’t like the Google Assistant driving mode at all. Around 25% said they like it. In case you missed the poll, feel free to comment in the section at the bottom.

Update 2 (June 30)

02:33 pm (IST): Google has now fully discontinued Android Auto for phone screens and users will now have to rely on Google Assistant Driving Mode for navigation, music controls, and more.

Moreover, after trying the new Assistant driving mode, folks over at Android Police have come to agree that the product is indeed a half-baked replacement of the discontinued app.

Featured image: Google blog

PiunikaWeb started as purely an investigative tech journalism website with main focus on ‘breaking’ or ‘exclusive’ news. In no time, our stories got picked up by the likes of Forbes, Foxnews, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Engadget, The Verge, Macrumors, and many others. Want to know more about us? Head here.

Want to work for PiunikaWeb and enjoy best-in-industry compensation & benefits? You'll be glad to know we're hiring experienced candidates.

Hillary Keverenge

Review Editor. Besides phones, I also enjoy the farm, music, football, and, of course, food.