The Most Controversial Google Maps Update on Android Auto Is ...

2 Oct 2023

Google has recently completed the rollout of what is likely the most controversial interface update in Google Maps on Android Auto.

Google Maps - Figure 1
Photo autoevolution

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Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution/reddit user Heligrin

The search giant has moved several Google Maps buttons to a new sidebar available exclusively on Android Auto. The sidebar provides one-tap access to the settings screen, the mute option, the compass, and the zoom-in and zoom-out buttons.

Previously, all these options were displayed across the Google Maps UI on Android Auto, so with this update, the company brings all of them in one place.

The rollout started earlier this year and took place in stages, with Google using an approach similar to other major updates and enabling the new experience for users in stages. The company recently completed the release, so now all users running Google Maps on Android Auto can see the new sidebar.

The new update is controversial, to say the least.

Users claim the sidebar eats up valuable space, sometimes blocking or impacting the location of essential information in Google Maps, such as the panel displaying the ETA. The sidebar uses a transparency effect so users can see behind it, theoretically using limited screen space. The buttons' size has remained unchanged, so they use just as much space as before. The only difference is that they're not placed in a new location.

The update's goal is obvious, as Google tried to bring the essential controls closer to the driver. Drivers frequently use the zoom-in and zoom-out buttons and the compass; reaching them has been quite a challenge on larger screens. With this update, all options are grouped in a sidebar displayed on the left side of the screen closer to the driver (it should also move to the right side in RHD vehicles running Android Auto).

Google did not announce the change, but the feature has been enabled gradually for all users running Google Maps on Android Auto. I see the new interface in Android Auto 10.5 with the latest Google Maps version installed on my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

While some hate the change, disabling it is impossible, as Google made the new UI mandatory for all users. Opting out is not possible, and chances are the search giant will stick with this interface moving forward. The best it can do is offer an auto-hide toggle to allow users to remove the sidebar when not in use. The new interface is enabled with a server-side switch, so it's not linked with a specific Google Maps or Android Auto version. Downgrading, therefore, won't disable the new UI.

The new feature is available on Android Auto, regardless of the connectivity mode, so you should get the interface whether you use the wired or the wireless version.

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