Google's I/O Developer Conference started today and the news from the event has been flowing thick and fast. We've seen a number of Google's existing products and services receive some love, such as the new Android VR platform and a significant update to Android Wear bringing it to version 2.0 due later in the year. In amongst these announcements, Google has discussed two relatively minor updates to Android Auto that are due later in the year.
The first is the ability to connect a smartphone to the Android Auto unit via a Wi-Fi connection. Currently, Android Auto requires a smartphone device to be connected to the car via a USB cable but Google are freeing the handset from this requirement. Of course, customers may still want to connect their smartphone to a USB power port to avoid running down the battery as running the Android Auto services over a wireless connection will be taxing for the battery. Still, with an increasing number of cars coming with a wireless charger unit as either standard or optional equipment, this small additional feature could make a significant difference to some customers. Google has said that it is a relatively simple upgrade for vehicles that already support Wi-Fi and Android Auto, but it's unclear if manufacturers will upgrade existing vehicles already on the market or with customers.
The second improvement is somewhat overdue: Android Auto will finally get support for the familiar "OK Google" hotword. This means that drivers will not have to touch a control in order to use the Android Auto functionality and there will be no hardware changes necessary for the vehicle, as it's the smartphone that will be doing the listening for the hotword rather than the in-car installation kit.
Unfortunately, Google has not provided us with any specific details as to when we can expect these two new features to arrive. Certainly with regards to providing Android Auto control over Wi-Fi, this may well depend on auto manufacturers modifying vehicles or the Android Auto installation kits and drivers may have to wait some time. For the "OK Google" hotword, this is likely to arrive in the form of a software update but we do not have a timescale for this. Google did, however, clarify that these two updates are independent of the next release of Android, up to Android N, which is good news for customers with smartphones from manufacturers not known to be particularly speedy when updating their devices.