Once an Android device is paired with the head unit, the system mirrors qualified apps from the device to the vehicle's display, with a simple, driver-friendly user interface. Supported apps, include GPS mapping/navigation, music playback, SMS, telephony, and web search. The system supports both touchscreen and button-controlled head unit displays, although hands-free operation through voice commands is encouraged to minimize driving distraction. Android Auto debuted at Google I/O 2014, and the app was released on 19 March 2015. Android Auto is part of the Open Automotive Alliance announced in 2014, and is a joint effort between 28 automobile manufacturers, with Nvidia as tech supplier.
The most common way Android Auto is deployed is via an Android mobile device running the Android Auto app, acting as a slave to a vehicle's dashboard head unit that supports this functionality. Once the user's Android device is connected to the vehicle, the head unit will serve as an external display for the Android device, presenting supported software in a car-specific user interface provided by the Android Auto app. In Android Auto's first iterations, the device was required to be connected via USB to the car.
Alternatively, in November 2016, Google added the option to run Android Auto as a regular app on an Android device, i.e., not tethered to a car's head unit, which allows for its usage on Android-powered head units, or simply on the user's personal phone or tablet in the vehicle. In addition, on January 1, 2018, it was announced that JVCKenwood would be exhibiting wireless Android Auto-enabled head units at CES 2018, which would be capable of operating without the need for a wired connection. Apple offers CarPlay for similar functionality with Apple devices.
An Android Auto SDK has been released, allowing third parties to modify their apps to work with Android Auto; initially, only APIs for music and messaging apps would be available, but it is expected that through Android auto, the mobile device will have access to several of the automobile's sensors and inputs, such as GPS and high-quality GPS antennas, steering-wheel mounted buttons, the sound system, directional speakers, directional microphones, wheel speed, compass, mobile antennas, etc. Also, there is partial access to car data, a feature still under development.
Currently supported apps include:
In May 2015, Hyundai became the first manufacturer to offer Android Auto support, making it available first in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata. Automobile manufacturers that will be offering Android Auto support in their cars include Abarth, Acura, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar Land Rover, Jeep, Kia, Lamborghini, Lexus, Lincoln, Mahindra and Mahindra, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, RAM, Renault, SEAT, Škoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Tata Motors Cars, Volkswagen and Volvo.