Assistant Drive Mode was a pale imitation, but at least it was more than just a Maps wrapper
If you drive a car without a dashboard display, it’s been a rough few years. Last year, Google shut down Android Auto for phone screens on Android 12 and above, with the app shutting down completely to all users this year. Earlier this week, we learned that Assistant Driving Mode dropped the Maps card from the dash. It made sense — that particular static map wasn’t particularly helpful, as it redirected you to the full Maps app — but turns out this is far from the full story. Today, Google confirmed that it is making a much bigger change to the Assistant driving mode: it completely shuts down the dashboard view.
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Google reached out to Android Police today to clarify the future of its car-friendly user interface for in-car phones, and it’s a big shift. On November 21, the company will close the dashboard view that first launched late last summer, moving the experience entirely to Maps and streamlining the experience for drivers.
Dashboard view of the Assistant driving mode.
Instead of opening the driving mode via a voice command or a shortcut on the home screen, it fits into the standard Maps navigation and offers pop-up notifications for incoming calls and messages. These prompts can be accessed by tapping the large icons on the screen or by standard voice commands that keep your hands on the wheel. Thankfully, the app grid is still there, giving you quick access to all those services and shortcuts.
The Assistant Driving Mode notifications built into Maps.
So why is this change happening? It turns out that most users use Assistant Driving Mode through Maps, not through the dashboard itself. This fact makes perfect sense: Not only does Maps open when you give Driving mode a destination, but those Assistant-powered features are also launched within Maps when you start navigating directly through the app. Google never gave drivers a way to go back to the dashboard view once you were on the road – it just gave you a shortcut to driving mode-supported apps like media and messaging. If you weren’t aware of the Assistant Driving Mode, which initially has to be accessed via a voice command before a home screen shortcut is ever made available, you’d never discover it organically.
Above all, this change confirms how the assistant driving mode failed to gain traction after shutting down Android Auto. Google had a chance to rethink what purpose your phone should serve while driving, something the first announcement at I/O 2019 seemed to demonstrate. By the time this dashboard view launched more than two years later, the Assistant Driving Mode had an all-new user interface, focused less on providing drivers with contextual information and more on a standard set of widgets and shortcuts. With limited regional availability and no space in the app drawer, it’s no wonder this service never quite caught on.
It was never meant to be.
Ultimately, Driving Mode felt half-baked from the get-go, especially considering the navigation was never synced to the dash. With next month’s changes, it’s best to think of these tools as a Maps feature, not as part of Assistant or Android. In a way, today’s news really marks the final nail in the coffin for Android Auto on phone screens. If you’re heading out this holiday season, you’ll either need a car with a built-in dashboard display or rely on Maps with Assistant’s unique toolset. Otherwise, an assortment of third-party offers are waiting for you in the Play Store.