Android Auto vs Android Automotive

Android Auto vs Android Automotive

Last Updated October 25, 2023 | Nate Moonis

By 2023, all Ford and Lincoln vehicles will come with Android Automotive. If you're confused because you thought most new Ford vehicles already came with Android Auto, you're not alone.

Despite their similar names, Android Auto and Android Automotive are very different. While Android Auto is just a mobile app, Android Automotive is an entire operating system.

There are a number of distinguishing features between the two. If you're thinking about buying a new car soon, you'll want to know the differences and similarities. Let's look at how the two stack up, and how Android Automotive will be different from Ford's SYNC systems.

What Is Android Auto?

The Android Auto interface showing apps and other features

Android Auto connects your phone to your car. By projecting your smartphone's interface onto the screen, you can use some of your apps and features. This means using apps you already know and enjoy, like Waze, Spotify, and Pandora. It also makes it easy to answer phone calls.

What Do You Need to Use Android Auto?

Android Auto requires an Android device running Android 6 or newer. You'll also need a vehicle that's compatible. Since Android Auto has become standard in almost every car since 2017, you can expect to see it on most new cars. In fact, Google recently stated that as of mid-2021, there are over 100 million Android Auto compatible cars. To see the full list of cars with Android Auto, check out Google's interactive compatibility page.

Android Auto requires an active cell connection to work. So, if you're out of range of towers, you're out of luck. You'll also be using your phone's data to access your apps, so make sure you've got a good enough plan.

What Is Android Automotive?

The Android Automotive interface in a Hummer

Google announced the Android Automotive Operating System in 2017, and it was first offered on the Polestar 2 in 2020. Android Automotive OS is a full operating system that runs on the vehicle's hardware, so it doesn't need a phone to function.

Because Android Automotive is integrated with the vehicle itself, it can adjust the temperature controls or change the radio station. It can also still do things like play music from Spotify or use Google Maps to get you where you're going.

Do You Need an Android Device to Use Android Automotive?

Unlike Android Auto, you don't need to own a device that's running Android OS to use Android Automotive. If you love your iPhone, you'll still be able to connect to your car's Android Automotive-run system to answer calls.

You will need a Google account for Android Automotive though. This will let you connect to the Google Play store and download apps. Though the catalog of apps that are compatible with Android Automotive is small, it's growing.

Android Automotive won't require a subscription, a cell phone plan, or other fees. Some apps allow for optional in-app purchases, but those aren't needed for functionality.

What Vehicles Come with Android Automotive?

Right now only a few vehicles come with Android Automotive. But that's going to change soon. In addition to Ford, by 2023 Honda and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance will have models with Android Automotive.

Below is a list of all of the cars that currently feature an Android Automotive system.

  • Polestar 2
  • Polestar 3
  • GMC Hummer EV
  • 2022+ GMC Sierra
  • 2022+ Chevrolet Tahoe
  • 2022+ Chevrolet Suburban
  • 2022+ Chevrolet Silverado
  • Chevrolet Silverado EV
  • Cadillac Lyriq
  • Renault Austral
  • Renault M├ęgane E-Tech Electric
  • Volvo XC40 Recharge
  • Volvo C40
  • 2022+ Volvo S90, V90, V90 Cross Country
  • 2022+ Volvo XC60
  • 2023+ Volvo XC90
  • 2023+ Volvo S60, V60, V60 Cross Country
  • 2023+ Volvo XC40
  • Rivian R1T
  • Rivian R1S
  • Lucid Air
  • 2022+ Maserati Ghibli, Levante, Quattroporte
  • 2021+ Dodge Durango
  • 2021+ Chrysler Pacifica

A picture of the Polestar 2

How Are Android Automotive and Android Auto Different?

While both Android Auto and Android Automotive OS are made by Google and make driving more enjoyable, there are a number of differences between the two.

Android Automotive vs Android Auto
Accessibility App Library Integration with Car Availability Navigation
Android Auto
- Uses Google Assistant, but can only control music, navigation and incoming calls.
- Cannot adjust functions like the HVAC system.

- Much wider selection of apps available.
- New apps developed quickly.

- Requires a cable or Bluetooth connection to work.
- Relies on cell connectivity.
- Can only use apps that are on your phone.

- Widely available.
- Can be added to almost any vehicle by adding a compatible head unit.

- Can use Waze, MapQuest, Google Maps, etc.
Android Automotive
- Uses Google Assistant to control music, input navigation and answer/make calls.
- Allows you to control car functions like AC temperature, AM/FM radio, and rear seat entertainment.

- Much smaller library.
- New apps developed at a slower rate.

- Fully integrated OS.
- No cable or Bluetooth connection required.

- Very few current cars feature it, but the number will increase in the coming years.
- Cannot add to any car, needs to be integrated into the car's onboard computer when built.

- Currently, only Google Maps is offered.

Where Android Auto Comes Out Ahead

Waze availability is a huge benefit for Android Auto users. This navigation app offers features Google Maps just doesn't have. For example, you can warn other drivers of hazards, police checkpoints, or traffic jams with more accuracy and detail than the alerts you get in Google Maps.

Android Auto also has a much larger app library than Android Automotive currently has. If you have a favorite radio station and want to listen to them while you're out of range, there's a good chance they have an app on the Google Play Store that you can download. This isn't possible on Android Automotive (at least not yet).

Another huge plus for users of Android Auto is that you can actually use it. Right now. Android Automotive isn't in a ton of cars currently, so that makes it hard to even get in the first place. Also, because it does doesn't require full vehicle integration, you can get an aftermarket head unit and add it to pretty much any vehicle. If you want to add it to your classic Mustang, you totally can.

What Android Automotive Can Offer

While Android Auto sounds pretty good, Android Automotive does have some key advantages. One of those advantages being that it doesn't use your cellphone's data plan. This is great for those with small or limited plans. Also, if you're an iPhone user, you don't have to give up your preferred device to use it.

However, the biggest benefit to Android Automotive is the ability to use Google Assistant to fully control your car's infotainment system. This is a huge plus for those who don't want to be distracted while driving by fiddling with knobs and buttons. Taking your eyes off the road can be dangerous, and Android Automotive completely solves that problem.

The Android Automotive interface using Google Assistant

Why Is Ford Switching from SYNC to Android Automotive?

Ford unveiled their SYNC 4 system less than three years ago with the Mustang Mach E. It's a little confusing that they're already moving on, but it's clear the industry is moving towards a more standardized approach.

For years, auto manufacturers have struggled with infotainment systems that are outdated at launch. It seems making a good vehicle and a good operating system don't go hand-in-hand.

Using an open-sourced system, like Android Automotive, allows Ford to benefit from others' work. And, most importantly, to deliver a better product for their users.

Ford making the jump to Android Automotive is good for Mustang enthusiasts. It'll allow Ford to focus on providing the best driving experience possible.

A side-by-side comparison of the SYNC 4 interface vs Android Automotive

The Future Is Now, Even If It's Not This Second

Android Automotive is looking like the future for Ford and the rest of the industry. But Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are the now, and they're still really good. If you decide to stick with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you're not missing out on much.

A lot of the functions of Android Automotive are taken straight from Android Auto. You also have a larger library of apps available to you in Android Auto. And every version of Ford SYNC includes some voice commands.

Currently, there isn't one right answer on whether you should or shouldn't upgrade to a car with Android Automotive. It comes down to personal preference and what you value. But, as Android Automotive improves and more manufacturers commit to it, it'll be increasingly harder to ignore or avoid. Personally, we're excited to see how Ford and the rest of the industry adapt it into new models, especially the new S650 Mustang in 2024.

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Sources: What is Android Automotive?, Android | Android Automotive OS vs. Android Auto: Understanding the world's first native OS, eInfochips | Android Automotive: Everything You Need To Know - Updated June 2022, Android Headlines

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.