Comment: ‘Android Auto for Phone Screens’ is a rare Google consolation

The extreme to which Google takes the ‘fail forward’ mentality has earned it a reputation of being the world’s best product killer, and one of the more recent of those was the Android Auto phone screen experience. In a rare move, it looks like Google is backtracking on that and offering consolation for those perturbed by the move to the new Assistant driving mode…

Here’s how things unfolded. The Android Auto app has — for a long while — had a phone screen experience for those without an Android Auto head unit. Back at Google I/O, Google announced a new driving mode for your phone based on the Assistant. Then, a Googler confirmed to us explicitly (and PR confirmed) that the Android Auto phone app experience would be going away.

Today, Google quietly announced that ‘in the coming weeks’ it will be publishing a separate app in the Play Store called the very-specific “Android Auto for Phone Screens”.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a separate app called “Android Auto for Phone Screens” in the Play Store. You can download this app to continue using the phone screen version of Android Auto. More information is coming soon.

There are a couple things you should know about this series of events…

This is almost certainly a decision that was made at some point between Google I/O 2019 and today. Google gave us — and pretty much every outlet — extensive information explaining how those who use the Android Auto would be transitioned to Assistant driving mode at some point, and how the new experience was a new unifying vision.

Second, the transition of the vast majority of current Android Auto phone screen experience users is still very much happening. Our Kyle and Dylan recently pulled apart Android Auto 4.6 as part of our APK Insight column, and strings were just added to the app that very strongly point users in the direction of Assistant’s driving mode. And it’s apparently coming in phases.

We’ve been following the development of the Assistant Driving Mode in the Google app since May, and just this week we discovered that it will feature a potentially slick-looking dark mode. Assistant Driving Mode must finally be getting closer to launch, as new strings have arrived in Android Auto that strongly suggest you try Driving Mode.

Given these facts, what exactly is this new ‘Android Auto for Phone Screens’ app? Android Police’s Rita El Khoury rightly notes that there are a few ways this could go (in brief):

  • The app might be nothing but a simple shortcut to Assistant’s upcoming Driving Mode…
  • The app might be a legacy version of Auto with the same phone interface we know…
  • The app might be a new one and could provide the same redesigned UI that just launched in cars, except everything runs on your phone’s screen…

To me, the two points above, plus a bit of common sense, would strongly suggest that the ‘Android Auto for Phone Screens’ app will be the second of these three possibilities. I’d guess it’s not too different from how Google still offers “Google+ for G Suite“, which is a separate app for a niche of people that still use the defunct social network, or heck, Hangouts (which is definitely being killed).

That’s to say: This is a rare consolation from Google. Why? It’s probably a mix of ensuring that key functionality isn’t lost for those that depend on the app when the transition to Assistant driving mode begins, abating the complaints for those who would prefer not to switch yet, and simply gently pushing back on the “Google kills everything” meme.

The question for me is this: In a world where Google’s reckoning with the fact that it’s alienating users and stirring distrust with its constant product churn (and often leaving users with little or no alternative without turning to third-parties), are consolation efforts like this one going to serve as a possible solution? Let us know what you think in the comments…

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