(Credit: Batshevs/Shutterstock)

For many years, Google was content to let third parties create their own podcast apps while it focused on other projects like Maps, Gmail and YouTube. While this gap allowed the creation of great apps like Pocket Casts, the company eventually got around to making its house brand, simply dubbed Google Podcasts (download for Android or iOS).

However, it was arguably a work in progress, and one of its missing features was support for Android Auto -- until now. 9to5Google reports that the latest beta of Google Podcasts is now ready for Android Auto, which is Google's car infotainment system for getting map directions, listening to music and audiobooks, and chatting with the Google Assistant.

SEE: Special coverage: CES 2019

Of course, with Android Auto support comes a new optional look for Google Podcasts that kicks in when you connect your phone to your car's infotainment system; the app's on-screen buttons and text become much larger so that you can quickly check it and interact at arm's length. Or you can use your car's built-in display for Android Auto, or you can interact solely via Google Assistant voice commands.

All things being equal, voice commands are your safest bet, because you don't need to take your eyes off the road or take hand off the steering wheel. That's especially important during these winter months in the northern hemisphere, when the roads are frequently slick with rain or obscured by snow.

CNET keeps a list of all the "OK Google" or "Hey Google" commands available, though not all of them are necessarily usable while driving.

These days, the Google Podcasts app finds itself in a crowded field already occupied by Pocket Casts, Podcast Go, Stitcher, National Public Radio, Podcast App, Podcast Republic and others, with more joining the party seemingly every month. And that's just the shortlist of podcast apps that specifically support Android Auto. There's plenty more out there that just haven't gotten around to adding this feature yet.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

When you add all the apps that can stream music and audiobooks too, the Google Podcasts app is up against some stiff competition for your attention when you're behind the wheel or riding public transit.

Given that Google's app has also developed a reputation for not getting updated very often and being pretty streamlined to begin with -- and that Google is frequently accused of walking away from seemingly valuable platforms (Google Reader, Play Music, Hangouts) -- and the long-term future of its podcast app isn't all that clear, despite its imminent Android Auto upgrade. 2019 may turn out to be the app's make-or-break year.

Takeaways

  • The beta version of the free Google Podcasts app now supports Android Auto.
  • However, due to Google not launching an official podcast app of its own until last year, a lot of competition entered into the power vacuum, which it must now face on its own Android Auto platform.

Read more

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.