This new Android Auto update is all about speed

Android Auto is getting a much-requested update, with the in-car smartphone interface making it far faster and easier to jump between your most commonly-used apps and services while on the road, as well as navigate through the UI and to key destinations. The new features will allow Android Auto users to customize more of the smartphone projection system, which is increasingly supported – either wired or wirelessly – in new cars, trucks, and SUVs.

The Android Auto launcher screen will be individually configurable now, Google says, directly from your phone. There'll also be the option to manually switch into dark mode, rather than waiting for it to happen automatically.

From the launcher screen, there'll now be support for accessing messaging apps directly. It'll be more straightforward to read and send new messages from apps like Google's own Messages, or third-party platforms such as WhatsApp, from wherever you are in the UI.

Media apps are getting new tabs, to make it simpler to browse through content. All apps, meanwhile, will now have a "back to top" option that instantly jumps back to the top of a list rather than requiring you to scroll manually. There'll be an A to Z button in the scroll bar, too.

Those with electric vehicles will find some new features tailored to living with an EV as well. The new Android Auto includes support for EV charging, parking, and navigation apps, and indeed we've already seen companies like ChargePoint launch updates to their apps so that finding a public charger is easier from the dashboard interface.

Car tech is an increasing point of focus for Google, with Android Auto only one element of its overall automotive strategy. As well as the smartphone projection system, which requires a phone be connected, there's Android Automotive OS which runs natively on the vehicle. We've already seen Polestar and Volvo launch EVs that use the software – and rely on Google Maps for navigation, the Google Assistant for voice control, and the Google Play store for third-party software – and more are expected to follow over the next 12-18 months.

However it's not just dashboard software, but how you get into the vehicle that Google is aiming to refine. Android 12 will add digital car key support, the company has said, with the new OS version bringing secure entry and even vehicle start support – if you have the right phone, and the right car, of course.

To use Android Auto, you'll need an Android 6.0+ device and, of course, a car that has support for the smartphone projection system. That's increasingly common on new models, though aftermarket head-units with Android Auto (and usually Apple CarPlay) support are also available.