Which Android system is best for car?

Android Auto and Android Automotive are two distinct in-vehicle infotainment systems from Google that integrate Android devices and provide driving-optimized experiences. Android Auto is designed to connect compatible Android smartphones to a vehicle’s infotainment display and can be installed in most vehicles. In contrast, Android Automotive is a full standalone operating system that is natively built into select vehicles by manufacturers. While they share some similarities in offering media playback, navigation, voice control and more through Android apps and services, Android Automotive represents a deeper level of integration and customization [1].

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is a system developed by Google to extend the Android platform into vehicles. It allows users to mirror select apps from their Android or iOS smartphone onto the car’s built-in display. Android Auto was first announced in 2014 and became available on select vehicles in 2015.

With Android Auto, drivers can access core driving apps like Google Maps, media apps, messaging apps and more without needing to pick up their phone. The interface is simplified with larger buttons and voice commands to minimize driver distraction. Android Auto runs on the vehicle’s head unit while the smartphone powers the experience.

Some key things to know about Android Auto:

  • Developed by Google specifically for use in cars with an Android operating system
  • Mirrors compatible apps from your Android or iOS smartphone onto the car’s display
  • Works with both Android phones and iPhones
  • Features a simplified interface with driving-optimized apps and voice commands
  • Phone powers the experience while head unit displays the interface

What is Android Automotive OS?

Android Automotive OS is an operating system developed by Google specifically for integrated car infotainment systems. Unlike Android Auto which mirrors a smartphone interface, Android Automotive OS runs directly on the vehicle’s hardware as an embedded OS with deeper integration and capabilities [1].

As an in-vehicle infotainment platform, Android Automotive OS provides a car-optimized interface with Google services built-in. It can power navigation, media playback, car settings, etc directly on the vehicle’s center display. Android Automotive OS is designed to enable automakers to create customized driving experiences with tighter hardware and software integration [2].

Interface and Features

Android Auto and Android Automotive OS offer different interfaces and features for in-car use. Here’s a comparison:

Graphical User Interface

Android Auto uses a simplified interface optimized for use while driving. The home screen shows Google Maps, media playback controls, and suggested apps. Drivers interact mainly through voice commands rather than the touchscreen.

Android Automotive OS has a more immersive interface similar to Android on smartphones and tablets. It utilizes the car’s built-in display and allows more touchscreen interactions. The home screen can be customized with apps and widgets.

Voice Control

Both Android Auto and Android Automotive OS support Google Assistant voice commands. Drivers can make calls, dictate messages, control media playback, navigate, and more hands-free.


Android Auto and Android Automotive OS use Google Maps for navigation. Maps are optimized for in-car use with larger buttons and text. Turn-by-turn directions, traffic alerts, and alternative routes help drivers navigate safely.

Media Support

Android Auto and Android Automotive OS support popular media apps like Spotify, YouTube Music, Audible, and more. Drivers can access playlists, podcasts, audiobooks, and internet radio.

App and Media Support

Android Auto and Android Automotive OS have significant differences in their app and media support due to their fundamentally different approaches. With Android Auto, the smartphone mirrors compatible apps from the phone to the vehicle’s display. This gives you access to your downloaded music, podcasts, and audiobooks from apps on your phone, such as Spotify, Pandora, Audible, and more. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram are also supported. However, Android Auto was designed as a driving-optimized interface, so not all apps on your phone will show up – only supported audio, messaging, and voice assistant apps are allowed [1].

In contrast, Android Automotive OS runs natively in the vehicle without needing to connect a phone. Instead of mirroring apps from your device, Android Automotive vehicles come with Google Play built-in, allowing you to download compatible audio, messaging, and voice apps directly to the car. This gives you access to media and apps without needing your phone present. However, the selection of apps optimized for Android Automotive is still limited compared to a smartphone [2]. Overall, Android Auto provides access to apps and media from your phone, while Android Automotive OS allows you to download select optimized apps directly into your vehicle.

Hardware Integration

Android Automotive OS allows for deeper integration with a vehicle’s hardware compared to Android Auto. This includes the vehicle’s sensors, cameras, instrument cluster, and more. According to the Android Automotive integration guide for OEMs, Android Automotive OS has “tighter integration with core vehicle components” source. For example, Android Automotive OS can directly access data from sensors and cameras to enable advanced driver assistance systems. The OS can also fully customize the instrument cluster display. In contrast, Android Auto is limited to displaying information on the vehicle’s infotainment screen.

With Android Automotive OS, OEMs have full control over the Human Machine Interface (HMI). This allows for a more seamless and tailored user experience between the infotainment system and the rest of the vehicle’s hardware. Apps can also be granted privileged access to vehicle data and controls that is not possible with Android Auto. Overall, the deeper integration enables a more unified and smarter in-vehicle experience.


Android Automotive offers more robust security compared to Android Auto, since it runs independently on the vehicle’s infotainment system rather than mirroring a connected smartphone. With Android Automotive, the operating system is tightly integrated into the car’s hardware, avoiding many of the vulnerabilities introduced by connecting a phone via USB or wireless Android Auto.

Since Android Automotive doesn’t rely on an external device, it eliminates threats from compromised smartphones, such as malware that could access car systems. The embedded Android OS can also be locked down by automakers with security enhancements specific for in-vehicle use. Android Automotive systems don’t have users downloading random apps that could introduce security holes. All apps are vetted and preinstalled by the automaker.

According to Google, Android Automotive provides “security by separation” by isolating apps and vehicle functions into different sandboxes. This prevents bugs or vulnerabilities in one app from impacting other parts of the system.1 The OS can encrypt all data and communications within the vehicle as well. Regular security updates can be pushed to the head unit over-the-air via the embedded cellular connection.

In contrast, Android Auto relies on the connected smartphone’s security protections. Bugs in a phone app could be transmitted to the vehicle’s infotainment system when mirrored via Android Auto. Malware on the phone may also be able to access some vehicle functions or data over the connecting USB cable. While Android Auto runs apps in a container with limited access, it’s not as integrated or locked down as Android Automotive’s security model.

Cost Comparison

One of the biggest differences between Android Auto and Android Automotive OS is the cost associated with each system. Android Auto comes free with compatible Android phones and only requires the purchase of an auto-ready head unit or dongle to connect the phone to the car’s infotainment display (Source). The core Auto functionality is included with the Android OS at no additional charge.

In contrast, Android Automotive OS is deeply integrated into the vehicle itself and is typically part of the car’s purchase price. For example, Volvo includes 4 years of their Android Automotive-based infotainment system with new vehicles, after which owners must pay around $200 per year to extend the subscription (Source). So while Auto has no recurring fees, Automotive’s costs are baked into the car’s sticker price and ongoing subscription model.

Manufacturer Support

When it comes to manufacturer support, Android Auto has much wider adoption than Android Automotive OS at this time. Many major car brands offer Android Auto compatibility in their vehicles, including GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Subaru, Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. Essentially, most mainstream auto brands support Android Auto.

In comparison, Android Automotive OS is currently only available from Polestar, Volvo, GM, and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance brands. Polestar offers it standard, while Volvo includes it in certain models like the XC40 Recharge EV. GM offers it in some Cadillac models starting with the Lyriq EV. Finally, Renault offers it in the Megane E-Tech EV, and Nissan will include it in the upcoming Ariya EV. So Android Automotive OS adoption is still quite limited to specific electric vehicle models at this time.

In summary, Android Auto is widely supported across many auto brands and models, while Android Automotive OS is currently only found in some EV models from a handful of brands. However, Android Automotive OS adoption is expected to grow over the coming years as more automakers build it into their next-gen vehicles.


In summary, the key differences between Android Auto and Android Automotive OS are that Android Auto is an app that projects onto the vehicle’s infotainment screen from your Android phone, while Android Automotive OS is a native operating system built directly into the vehicle. Android Auto offers a larger app ecosystem and can work in any car with the proper connection. Android Automotive OS has tighter hardware integration and offers more customizable interfaces, but has fewer compatible apps.

For most drivers, Android Auto provides the best combination of broad app support, voice control integration, affordable compatibility, and interfacing with your personal smartphone. Unless you require an extremely customized in-vehicle experience, Android Auto will suit the needs of the majority of drivers looking to integrate their Android device with their vehicle’s infotainment system.

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