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Google Assistant Driving Mode Preview Rolls Out in US After a Year’s Delay

Google has begun previewing Google Assistant Driving Mode, a comprehensive reworking of Android Auto on smartphones. Google originally said Driving Mode would debut last summer when the company first unveiled the new look a year and a half ago at I/O 2019, but pushed the rollout until now, where it arrives as part of a set of updates to Google Maps.

Car Talk

Google Assistant Driving Mode can be set up on any Android phone that has Android Auto as an option. Once activated, drivers can ask the voice assistant to launch Driving Mode and see large tiles representing common actions that can be activated by touch as well as by voice command. The new interface aims to limit how much attention drivers have to pay to the screen to handle communication, entertainment, and navigation. The voice assistant announces incoming calls, and drivers can accept or decline them. Google Assistant will also read incoming text messages out loud, and drivers can dictate responding texts if they choose. As before, drivers can ask Google Assistant to play audio from any of the standard connected platforms, including YouTube Music, which has finished replacing Google Play as the default home for streaming music from Google.

A viral Reddit post made it seem like Driving Mode was coming out last July, but it turned out to be a faked photo. The current preview version also lacks some of the elements discussed at I/O, including suggestions for navigation based on calendar events and recently visited locations. Google said that more features are on the way, pointing to the upcoming holidays as one reason to start pushing the new system out to users as they may be traveling by car more soon.

“Even without a global pandemic, the holidays are busy and you may need to spend some time on the road,” Google explained in a blog post. “Driving mode makes all of this possible without ever leaving the navigation screen, so you can minimize distractions on the road.”

Drive Time

The update to Google’s driving AI comes not long after Amazon debuted a new Alexa Auto Mode that looks a lot like Android Auto. Amazon also launched the latest version of the Alexa Auto SDK for developers to add their own driver-friendly voice apps to the platform last month. The mobile phone-based automotive assistants may become less relevant over the next few years, though, as cars with one or more voice assistants built-in become more common. Google alone will account for many European vehicles thanks to a deal with Groupe PSA to integrate the Android Automotive operating system into its cars starting in 2023. Amazon has carmaking partners for its voice assistant too. Both companies face plenty of stiff competition from native car voice assistants, too, whether built by a car company or on agnostic platforms. Honda is using SoundHound’s Houndify, for instance, and Cerence just reported record-breaking revenue. For now, an intuitive Google Assistant interface for Android smartphones will likely find plenty of eager users.


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