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If you drive a car that has Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, it can be a much different experience than slapping your phone in a car dock and wrangling Bluetooth or audio cables. Google's and Apple's systems allow for a more reliable connection, and they also provide more capabilities.

However, in the midst of CES 2019 in Las Vegas this week, Google has laid out a plan for people who don't have more recent infotainment systems in their cars and trucks.

SEE: Special coverage: CES 2019

In a wide-ranging blog post today, company executive Manuel Bronstein covers many updates coming to the Google Assistant, a virtual assistant like Siri but with a better reputation for voice recognition, natural-sounding speech and overall utility. As Siri is built into your iPhone, the Google Assistant comes pre-installed on most Android phones, or you can download it yourself for Android or iOS.

But to use the Assistant effectively while driving, you arguably needed Android Auto. With these two forces combined, your phone can read out text messages and take dictation of your responses, handle phone calls, set up driving directions in Google Maps or Waze, and handle music and podcasts in a variety of apps that have Android Auto support.

With the update that's rolling out today, none of these functions require Android Auto or Apple CarPlay anymore. All you will need is the latest version of Google Maps for Android or iOS and the updated Google Assistant app. Of course, these rollouts can take days or weeks, so don't expect the new version to necessarily show up in your device's app store today.

While Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are becoming increasingly common, they are rarely included in the base trim of a new car or truck. To get these perks, you normally need to spend hundreds or thousands more. Unfortunately, this extra cost can put the tech out of reach for budget-conscious buyers or lessees, so this latest update to the Google Assistant should be a welcome addition.

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(Note that the navigation systems that come directly from the manufacturer in the highest trims of an automobile can still be more useful than Google Maps, due to how Maps obtains data. With a conventional "nav" system, your car connects to a satellite, whereas Google Maps uses cell towers. So if you're in a sparsely populated area, a nav system may still work while Google Maps does not.)

If you have a Pixel phone, Bronstein offers some more cool news: the availability of the Google Assistant from your lock screen. He says, "You can ask your Google Assistant to show restaurants nearby, set up and dismiss alarms, schedule reminders and timers without unlocking your phone. You can also opt in to see answers to personal queries, like traffic updates to work or calendar updates."

This lock screen feature is currently exclusive to Pixel phones, but it will be available for all Android devices "in the next few weeks."

Takeaways

  • Google announced on its blog today that you will soon be able to use the Google Assistant for iOS or Android to bypass the need to have Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to get the most hands-free functionality from Google Maps while driving.
  • With the new version of Google Assistant, you can use it while driving to read out text messages and take dictation of your responses, handle phone calls, set up driving directions in Google Maps or Waze, and handle music and podcasts.

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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.