Android for Cars overview

You can build driver-optimized apps that can be installed onto Android Automotive OS. You can also extend your phone app for Android Auto so users can enjoy a driver-optimized experience on their phones and compatible in-vehicle console systems.

Both Android Automotive OS and Android Auto provide a simplified interface for apps that can be used on the road. This flexibility lets users take your app with them on the way to the grocery store, on a long road trip, or wherever else they're traveling. With Android Automotive OS, users can even leave their phone behind at home.

Continue reading to learn more about Android apps for cars. When you're ready to start building your app, see Get started with Android for Cars.

Android Automotive OS and Android Auto

Android Automotive OS and Android Auto provide complementary ways for users to access your apps from their car. Each one enables a different group of users to access and enjoy your apps on the road.

Android Automotive OS

Android Automotive OS is an Android-based infotainment system that is built in to vehicles. The car's system is a stand-alone Android device that is optimized for vehicles.

Instead of using your phone app, users install a driver-optimized version of your app directly onto the head unit. You can reuse services that you create for Android Automotive OS for Android Auto, but there are some activities such as sign-in and settings that you must design and implement for vehicle user interfaces.

Android Auto

Android Auto provides a driver-optimized app experience for users with an Android phone and the Android Auto app, but who do not have a vehicle that uses Android Automotive OS. If a user's car or aftermarket stereo system supports Android Auto, they can use your app directly on their car's display by connecting their phone.

You enable Android Auto to connect with your phone app by adding services that Android Auto uses to display a driver-optimized interface to the driver. You can reuse these services for your Android Automotive OS app, but users do not install your phone app on their cars.

Android Auto already has millions of users and hundreds of compatible cars and aftermarket stereo systems.

User access modes

The following sections describe how users can access your app, depending on the type of vehicle they drive:

Access on Android Automotive OS

Users with an Android-powered vehicle can install a driver-optimized version of your app directly onto their vehicle's infotainment system through the Google Play Store. These users can enjoy your app without needing to connect or sync their phone.

Automotive OS user interface

Figure 1. Home screen on Android Automotive OS.

Access on an Android Auto compatible car display

If users have a vehicle that is compatible with Android Auto, they can connect a phone running Android 5.0 (API level 21) or higher to enjoy a driver-optimized experience on the vehicle's console. While using your app with Android Auto, users can use both voice actions and the vehicle's input controls like a touchscreen or dashboard buttons.

Andrid Auto user interface

Figure 2. Android Auto Home screen on dashboard.

Access on their phone's screen

Screenshot
  of an Android-powered phone
Figure 3. Android Auto Home screen on a phone.

Users can also use your app on their phone's screen with the Android Auto app. When accessing your app this way, users get the full Android Auto experience entirely on the phone without connecting their phone to a compatible vehicle. With this standalone, handheld version of Android Auto, users see an interface designed for driving and use their voice to handle calls, messages, music, and navigation.

Supported app categories

Android Automotive OS and Android Auto don't support all types of apps. You can currently build apps for cars that belong to following categories:

Media apps

These apps allow users to browse and play music and spoken audio content in the car.

The following table explains whether you can build and distribute media apps for Android Auto and Android Automotive OS:

Build and test apps Distribute apps
Android Auto Yes Yes
Android Automotive OS Yes No

Resources for media apps

Learn more about designing, building, and distributing media apps with these additional resources:

Messaging apps

These apps allow users to receive incoming notifications, read messages aloud using text-to-speech, and send replies via voice input in the car.

The following table explains whether you can build and distribute messaging apps for Android Auto and Android Automotive OS:

Build and test apps Distribute apps
Android Auto Yes Yes
Android Automotive OS No No

Resources for messaging apps

Learn more about designing, building, and distributing messaging apps with these additional resources:

App quality and distribution

Learn how to distribute your app to cars and how apps are evaluated for quality and driver safety:

How-to guides

Learn the basics about building Android apps for cars, including app design, project setup, and other information:

Videos

Learn the latest information about Android apps for cars with these videos: