Until now, Android Auto boasted a similar feature set to Apple CarPlay, with both technologies allowing their respective smartphone operating systems to present a mirrored but significantly simplified interface on a vehicle's compatible display.
This way, drivers and passengers could use their car's touchscreen to easily interact with compatible built-in and third-party smartphone apps, such as maps, navigation, music, and messaging. They also enabled interaction through touch-initiated voice recognition.
An upcoming update to Android Auto will allow it to function as a standalone app when the phone is not connected to a compatible infotainment system.
In this mode, Android Auto essentially puts the smartphone into a simplified "car mode", with the same large icon layout, voice recognition system, and pared-down on-screen functionality as normally offered through an infotainment touchscreen.
This new feature will allow Android phone users to use Android Auto even if they're driving an older vehicle, or a less well equipped car, without a compatible touchscreen interface.
While many car makers have already or are about to jump on the smartphone mirroring bandwagon, some, like Toyota, are steadfastly refusing to incorporate either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay into their vehicles.
Other new Android Auto features announced today at Google I/O include the ability to use a keyphrase, such as "OK Google", instead of a physical button press to activate voice recognition.
The company has also made the Waze navigation app compatible with Android Auto, so users can elect to use this over Google Maps, if they so desire.
For cars with a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, Android Auto can also cast its simplified interface to other smartphones, allowing, say, back-seat passengers the ability to control the car's infotainment system remotely.
Google has also opened up the Android Auto API, allowing automakers to create Android Auto compatible apps that can control car-related functionality. Honda and Hyundai are already prepping apps to take advantage of this.
Not much was revealed about the functionality of these first two auto maker-developed apps, except that they'll allow access to roadside assistance and service reports from within Android Auto, as well as send out alerts if a valet takes your car outside a confirmed boundary.
The new Android Auto features will become available later this year for anyone using a phone equipped with Android Lollipop (5.0) or later.