Google announced Android Auto at Google I/O in 2014, but it took another year before you could actually get it in a car. Android Auto is now supported by various auto manufacturers and makers of third-party multimedia head units. The screens come in different shapes and sizes, and the hardware buttons vary. One thing all these implementations have had in common is that you need to connect your phone with a cable to use Android Auto. That’s finally changing with the addition of Android Auto wireless mode, but only if you’ve got specific hardware at your disposal.
Because Android Auto is powered entirely by the phone, Google can issue updates to the functionality and features. Some changes are made via the Android Auto app, and others come with background updates to Google Play Services. In a recent update, Google flipped the switch to enable wireless mode for Android Auto. However, it only works on Google’s phones for now.
If you’ve got a Pixel, Pixel 2, or 2015 Nexus phone, you now have Android Auto wireless support. You almost certainly do not have the necessary hardware in your car to do wireless projection. A cable has been required because the phone runs Auto and just shows the UI on a screen — the car doesn’t have anything to do with it. Android Auto’s wireless mode is not operating over Bluetooth like phone calls and media streaming. There’s nowhere near enough bandwidth in Bluetooth to run Android Auto, so the feature used Wi-Fi to communicate with the display.
No cars roll off the assembly line with support for wireless mode in Android Auto, and only a handful of costly third-party head units have it. You’re looking at a minimum of $600 for a head unit with support for wireless mode, and that’s before installation costs. Newer cars won’t even accept non-OEM head units without a lot of expensive modification.
The $1,200 Kenwood DNX995S is one of the few head units with wireless support.
You might not be missing too much, though. Android Auto wireless mode will use substantially more power on your phone (it’s pushing data over Wi-Fi continuously), and it’s not plugged into the car to recharge at the same time. Sure, you could plug the phone into a car charger, but at that point, why even bother to use wireless mode if you’re going to plug a cable into your phone?
Android Auto wireless mode is probably best when taking a short trip. If you just need to head down the road, you can fire up wireless mode and use Android Auto while the phone is still in your pocket. It might be a year or two before you can even buy a car that supports this feature, though. The same goes for smartphones, unless you buy from Google.