Google isn’t always the best at creating and following clearly-defined product roadmaps, especially when it comes to software services. Just look at how many Google messaging and communication apps have come and gone over the years.
Up next to compete for Most Confusing Product Roadmap is, ironically, Google Assistant Driving Mode. Revealed in 2019 and intended to replace Android Auto for Phone Screens, Assistant Driving Mode didn’t fully take over from its predecessor until this summer, a full three years later. And now, it too is on its way out.
More specifically, the function will soon lose Google Maps integration. This means a system that was intended to act like Android Auto, but running on your dashboard-mounted smartphone instead of on the car’s own display, will no longer have the ability to show Google Maps. Instead, it’ll continue to show controls for music and media playback, and buttons for sending messages and making phone calls, both via speaking to Google Assistant.
The road this software has traveled on has twisted and turned considerably over the past few years, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Google is once again moving away to a different strategy. During that time, Android Auto for Phone stumbled on for a while longer, before eventually being switched off by Google earlier this year.
Now, version 13.39 of the Google app, which is currently available in beta form, contains a reference to a “sunset_message”. Discovered by 9to5Google, this states: “Driving screen will be disabled Nov 21, 2022; use Google Maps for future hands-free navigation.”
This “driving screen” is the Google Maps tile that appeared on the Driving Mode interface when navigation was active. With this going away, the interface is no longer particularly useful, unless you want to use your car’s own navigation system, but use your Android phone’s Driving Mode for calls, messages and media playback, controlled by Assistant. We suggest you plug your phone into the car and use Android Auto instead.
It feels like Google's many software teams have tied themselves in knots, offering several different ways to access Maps while driving – and in a safe, distraction-free way – but with little in the way of cohesion across the various functions and interfaces. As 9to5Google says, what’s left in the Driving Mode interface “makes for a pretty mad user experience”.
Hopefully some clarity will be restored when Google finally rolls out its much-anticipated (and somewhat late) Android Auto update, featuring an interface overhaul known as Coolwalk.