Desktop Head Unit – An Exceptional Tool for Testing Android Auto Apps

5 October 2015

San Francisco: One of the greatest challenges in building good apps for Android Auto is testing the experience. There are numerous developers who can’t afford to buy a brand new car with Auto built-in. Also, aftermarket unit heads do not fit in most of the recently manufactured car without modifying it to a greater extent. When the Auto SDK came out, it had the simulators which could be used for basic testing like messaging or media browser interfaces. But these simulators were not the good substitutes for the real thing.

Recently Google released Desktop Head Unit (DHU), a new tool using which the developers can test Android Auto apps. The DHU empowers the work station to act as an Android Auto head unit which emulates in-car experience while allowing the developers to test Android Auto apps efficiently. Once you install the DHU, you will be able to test Android Auto apps by connecting your phone to the work station via USB. The phone starts behaving as if it is connected to the car. The app will be displayed on the work station in the same way as it’s displayed on a car.

The DHU works just like an Android Auto unit; all the on screen button and functions work normally. It works so well that the interaction between DHU and the phone is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. So now the developers are capable of testing the experience of working with Android Auto apps in an environment that they intend to operate without crawling in the seat of a car. The DHU not only supports the mouse clicks on the screen but also supports the input given through a computer’s microphone. Using DHU, developers can also run the assortment of actions through command line instructions and also some keyboard shortcuts to toggle between the daytime and night time modes.

Getting started with Desktop Head Unit (DHU)

To get started with DHU, you need to have an Android phone running 5.0 Lollipop or higher versions with Android Auto companion app installed on it. Also, install the DHU on your work station by opening SDK manager and downloading it.

Running the DHU

  • Firstly, enable Android Auto developer mode on your phone by starting the companion app and tapping on the header image for 10 times; this is a one-time test.
  • Start up the head unit server in the Auto companion app; just click on the context menu and select ‘’start head unit server’’. You will find this option only if the developer mode is enabled. After starting the head unit server, you will receive a notification saying that the server is running.
  • Set up port forwarding using ADB to allow DHU to connect to the head unit server running on your phone and start the DHU.

Now, the DHU will be launched on your work station, and the phone enters Android Auto mode.

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