The latest Android Auto update is one of the biggest yet for Google’s in-car interface, giving users more control than ever over how the software looks on their car dashboard.

If you’re completely new to the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay experience, these are the interfaces that pop up in compatible vehicles when you connect your Android or iPhone device. They’re essentially extensions of your phone, giving you access to select apps including maps, music, and messaging.

The internal Google codename for this latest Android Auto update is Coolwalk, though you won’t see it mentioned anywhere officially. It brings with it a split-screen design, streamlined widgets, and a new app launcher.

Changing the layout of Android Auto

By default, the Android Auto interface will show you three widgets: A larger maps panel, a smaller area with media playback controls, and a shortcuts panel displaying recent destinations in your preferred maps app. These widgets represent the apps you’ve used most recently in each category, and if you want to make either of them go full-screen, you can just tap them.

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The interface will also give whatever media playback app you’re using a second screen typically showing recommendations for what to play next. You can access it by swiping left or right on the corresponding icon. As you drive, if you don’t use any of the map destination shortcuts, the media app widget will expand to fill that space.

Depending on your car’s dashboard screen you’ll also see shortcuts to your most-used apps on the side of the widgets or underneath them. Tap any of these shortcuts to make the selected app fill the screen. You’ll also recognize the colorful microphone icon, which you can tap to give voice commands to the Google Assistant.

In the lower-left corner of the Android Auto screen, you should also see a monochrome icon that will either show nine dots or two squares and a rectangle, depending on what’s on screen. Tap this to cycle between the widget view, the full-screen view, and the app launcher, which shows all of the apps available inside Android Auto.

Choosing your Android Auto apps

The apps that you see in Android Auto will be the same apps installed on your phone, but only if they support a car interface. Google Maps is a good example: It’s crucial to the Android Auto experience, so you’ll always see it available through the interface in your vehicle.

But maybe you don’t want to see all the Android Auto-supporting apps you have on your phone crowding your car’s dashboard screen. If there are some you know will never use while on the move, you might want to declutter the app launcher by hiding them from view. You’ll need to set this up on your phone, so don’t do this while driving. From Settings, pick Connected devices, Connection preferences, Android Auto, and Customize launcher. From there, uncheck the box next to any app you don’t want to see in the dashboard interface. You’ll notice some tools, like Google Maps, Phone, and Settings, are not optional, so you won’t be able to hide them from the app launcher.

Go back to the Android Auto menu to switch between night and day (dark and light) modes for maps and customize the interface in various other ways. From this menu, you’ll also be able to enable Taskbar widgets, which will display a new bar along the bottom of the interface so your media playback controls are available at all times.

Customize your Android Auto settings

Screenshot of Android Auto's app launcher.
You can use your phone to pick and choose which Android Auto-supporting apps appear in the car’s interface. David Nield

The renewed Android Auto also offers a selection of customizations you can access from the interface itself. Again, toggling them will require some concentration and focus, so make sure not to play around with them while your vehicle is moving. Get to the app launcher by tapping the nine-dot icon (you may have to access it by touching the widget icon first), and pick Settings.

The first selection of settings covers notifications, so you can choose whether or not you get alerts whenever there’s an incoming message on your phone. There’s also the option to show the first line of conversations and to play a chime on these alerts. Turn off the Suggestion cards setting and you won’t see smart prompts like the option to call a contact you communicate with a lot or navigate to a specific home or work address.

[Related: Your Android phone may soon be able to start your car]

Further down you can set whether Android Auto starts up automatically when it connects and whether the audio you were playing most recently starts up automatically. In our experience, not all media apps obey the rules set down by this setting, so you might still find audio playing (or not playing) no matter what this option is set to.

As well as accessing settings you can get on the phone (such as day and night mode for maps), there’s also a Wallpaper option. Tap this and you’ll be able to access a selection of different patterns and photos. Wallpaper doesn’t show up on the widgets view, but you will see it when you’re accessing menus and the app launcher.