Beta-Testing Car Software Sounds Like a Bad Idea

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Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

If you drive a car that supports Android Auto, Google has opened a beta tester program to try the new features before everyone else. Once you opt into the beta, you can help Google test the features with your specific device and vehicle and share feedback to help the company improve the product.

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Part of the charm of being an Android user is that you have access to software and apps before everyone else. It’s a definite perk if you know what you’re dealing with and can handle the relative instability in your tech life.

But I’ve been living with the Android 12 Beta for a few months on a secondary device, and though it’s relatively stable, it’s very obviously a work in progress. Apps crash and sometimes don’t launch at all. Now imagine having to deal with this while you’re driving, with one hand on the wheel and the other reaching for the screen in an attempt to re-route yourself through narrow streets you’ve never seen before.

Writing that paragraph gave me a sincere physical reaction, as I recall the stress I’ve experienced in similar situations. There have been instances where I was running a beta version of an app, and it stopped working while I was trying to access my phone. I use Android Auto on my phone as my car’s infotainment system since my dashboard is too complicated to try to swap out and replace it with the appropriate hardware. I’ve pulled over at the first freeway exit to deal with my smartphone acting up while I was trying to get someplace. Granted, the issue wasn’t with Android Auto but with something in the background. The point is that I’m reliant on that interface when I’m behind the wheel, and anything that interferes with that will immediately throw off my focus.

These scenarios contribute to distracted driving, which the CDC defines as “anything that takes your attention away” from the road. This includes texting, eating, talking on the phone, and adjusting the navigation system. I’m sure it also includes me shuffling through Spotify for the right song to sing along with as I’m making my way home. Android Auto was originally developed to help take away some of those causes of distracted driving by enabling the Assistant to do it for you. But when the Assistant cannot facilitate, it’s up to you to take over and steer the system.

The beta is likely stable, given that Google has opened it up to everyone, and if there are issues, the company has a track record of quickly dealing with them. Part of the agreement of opting into the beta is that you offer feedback, and there are forums available to escalate an issue quickly. You can always choose to opt out again if it’s too glitchy for day-to-day use.

But my advice is that you steer clear of the Android Auto beta if it’s the only navigation software in your car. Some vehicles have infotainment systems with various launchers and apps available to use, in addition to the Android Auto option. If that’s your case, at least there’s a backup solution. But if you’re in a situation where Android Auto is the only thing available for maps and answering the phone hands-free, stick to what’s stable. At the end of the day, that’s the safest option when you’re behind the wheel.

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