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Google posts Android Auto design guidelines

Sep 29, 2014 — by Eric Brown 2,671 views

Google posted a developer overview for Android Auto, offering guidelines for designing extensions to existing Android apps for customized IVI interactions.

Google announced Android Auto with relatively few details at Google I/O in June, following the formation of an Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) in January. These related efforts are designed to standardize integration with Android devices and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, as opposed to designing an Android IVI stack that runs the whole show. In some ways, Android Auto is similar to the Car Connectivity Consortium’s MirrorLink technology and Apple’s CarPlay.

Android Auto architecture
(click image to enlarge)

In addition to the original OAA members — Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Nvidia — Android Auto partners now include Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan, Renault, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Volvo. The Android Auto SDK will be released “in the coming months,” featuring media service interfaces and an APK for handheld devices that simulates the Android Auto app, according to Google.

At Google I/O, the company said that the initial SDK would focus on audio and messaging. The messaging APIs, for example, will let you respond by voice to a text message. The APIs will be similar to those used by Android Wear, allowing potential integration with smartwatches as well.

Android Auto apps showing customized UI functions
(click image to enlarge)

The Android Auto app does not run on the car computer, but on an Android mobile device. The voice-activated app can cast the contents of the phone to the car’s IVI screen and use the IVI device’s controls, including steering wheel buttons, to interact with it. You can also use the phone’s voice controls, so for example, you can use voice-activated Google Maps on the larger IVI screen, without having to prop up the phone up on your dash. The interface can be customized for each IVI system’s particular features, says Google.

Day/night transitions in Android Auto
(click image to enlarge)

As Ars Technica noted in a story that alerted us to the Developer Overview publication, Android Auto is not typically an app in itself, but a set of extensions to a regular Android app. The extensions customize the app for IVI screens and I/O, and which are formatted with safety compliance in mind. This approach is similar to the one Google is taking with Android Wear, with the same focus on limited UI verbiage and complexity, but without the added focus on safety.


As Ars Technica points out, Android Auto offers a particularly rigid set of guidelines, leaving developers with relatively little creativity in how their apps look and feel. The UI “defines interfaces for browsing, searching, and listening to content from media apps,” notes Google. “You can customize the UI colors, action icons, background images, and more.”

Generic and customized drawers for browse actions
(click image to enlarge)

The tradeoff for these limitations, however, is a sort of pre-validation process for safety regulations. “Android Auto provides you with a standard UI designed to minimize driver distraction,” states Google. “You do not have to test a custom UI for driver distraction, which is a lengthy and expensive process involving multiple legislations across the globe and different standards for each vehicle OEM.”

Android Auto app with customized actions

Major architectural components of Android Auto include:

  • Media app — Runs a media service on your native Android app that exposes content through browsing and playback APIs, providing content to the Android Auto app
  • Android Auto app — Creates the UI and handles user interactions, using a media client to request content from the media service, and then requesting data from the media service and monitoring service states
  • Vehicle display — Shows content and supports user interaction via on-screen soft buttons, physical buttons, or steering wheel controls

Android Auto provides interaction models and car-specific UI patterns for apps, starting with support for media apps, such as music, podcast, live radio, and audio news apps. It also integrates with existing Android APIs for notifications, and supports a set of voice actions to interact with compatible apps and services.

Android Auto launcher lists all compatible media apps on the user’s Android device
(click image to enlarge)

The Android Auto interface is designed to be “glanceable and simple,” with interactions that “require less thinking” and “induce lower cognitive load” for better safety, explains the Google overview. The UI is designed to offer contextual awareness, with timely help, and offer “continuous experience from phone to car to other devices,” says the overview. Other features include transitions from day to night, as well as four standardized action bar actions, plus four more auxiliary actions on the overflow bar, and a “return” action.

Further information

The first Android Auto SDK will be available “in the coming months,” says Google. More information may be found at Google’s Android Auto Developer Overview page.

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One response to “Google posts Android Auto design guidelines”

  1. jelabarre says:

    Let me guess; they’re going to require all Android Auto devices come with Gmail (along with a plethora of other apps inappropriate for automotive use).

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