How car notifications work

How notifications behave in Android Automotive OS depends on their priority, which determines whether they arrive as heads-up notifications (HUNs) or are sent to the Notification Center.

Notification priority

In Android Automotive OS, the priority of a notification depends on the following two aspects of the notification:

  • Its importance level
  • Its content category

Importance levels

The importance levels for notifications in cars are the same as for notifications elsewhere.

These importance levels are ranked as follows, from most to least important:

  • MAX
  • HIGH
  • LOW
  • MIN

In cars, importance levels are used to help determine which notifications appear as HUNs and also to suppress unimportant foreground service notifications that could distract drivers.

Content categories

The content categories for notifications in cars include most of the usual Android notification categories, plus three car-specific categories: CAR_EMERGENCY, CAR_WARNING, and CAR_INFORMATION.

The car-specific categories are among the small subset of notifications that are allowed to appear as HUNs, along with those in the CALL, MESSAGE, and NAVIGATION categories.

Only two types of Android notifications are not represented as notifications in cars:

  • TRANSPORT notifications (for media playback)
  • Unimportant foreground service notifications (importance level of LOW or below), regardless of category

Notifications in the TRANSPORT category aren’t needed in cars because media playback information is provided in the media template (via the playback view or the minimized control bar), rather than in notifications.

Which notifications appear where

In Android Automotive OS, some notifications show up as HUNs (heads-up notifications), which temporarily cover part of the current screen. Most notifications also go to the Notification Center, where they can be consulted later.

The decision about whether to interrupt the driver with a HUN is based largely on the content category of the notification, with importance level also contributing to the decision in some cases.

Details of which notifications appear in which places are in the table below.


These notification categories appear as HUNs only when their importance level is HIGH or above

Notification Center Neither HUN nor Notification Center
  • CALL
  • NAVIGATION (unless suppressed by car maker)

* In addition to having an Importance level of HIGH or above, notifications in these categories must be posted via system-privileged apps or apps signed with the platform key in order to appear as HUNs
All notifications that appear on phones, except NAVIGATION and TRANSPORT notifications and some foreground service notifications (see right column)

Foreground service notifications with importance level LOW or below from system-privileged apps or apps that are signed with the platform key

Foreground services notifications relate to background operations that users might notice, most typically the playing of audio tracks. As with TRANSPORT notifications, foreground service notifications related to media play are not needed in Android Automotive OS because media play is handled through the dedicated media components described in Playing media.

How HUNs work

When a HUN arrives:

  • In the portrait reference experience, it appears on the bottom of the screen
  • In the small landscape reference experience, it appears on top of the current screen, covering the content behind the notification card
Video of HUN sliding down from top of screen, then back up
Here, the HUN slides down from top of screen, then back up

Drivers can interact with the contents (including playing messages) or dismiss the HUN by swiping. Because most HUNs are also sent to the Notification Center, drivers can go there later to interact with notifications they have dismissed as HUNs.

If the driver takes no action, the HUN is automatically dismissed after a default time of 8 seconds (configurable by car makers), except in a couple of special situations: ringing phone calls and navigational (“next turn”) HUNs.

CALL, MESSAGE, and NAVIGATION are the only non-car-specific categories of notifications that can appear as HUNs. They also have some special design considerations, as noted in the sections that follow.

Incoming phone call HUNs

A HUN for an incoming phone call will display as long as the phone is ringing – that is, until the call is either answered or declined.

Users should be able to answer or decline the call via action affordances on the HUN.

Incoming call notification card
Notification card for incoming phone call shows name of caller and description “Incoming call,” with buttons labeled “Answer” and “Decline”

Car makers can use color to help users easily distinguish between the Answer button (colored green here) and the Decline button (colored red)

Incoming message HUNs

Notifications are the only way users can receive text messages in Android Automotive OS while driving.

Users should be able to take the following actions via action affordances on the message HUN:

  • Play the message
  • Mute the conversation (stop its messages from appearing as HUNs for the duration of the drive)

If a user chooses to play the message, it is read aloud either by the Assistant (if the Assistant is enabled) or by TTS (Text to Speech). If users mute notifications from a conversation, they can read those notifications later in the Notification Center.

When the user is driving, the message HUN should not display a message preview, to minimize “eyes off the road” time. However, when the car is stopped or parked, car makers can choose to allow message previews.

A navigation HUN, such as a “next turn” instruction, will stay up if the app continues to send updates to it. Otherwise, it will be dismissed after 8 seconds or whatever has been configured as the default time.

Turn by turn navigation notification
Navigation notification shows a turn instruction (150 feet, turn right), along with the destination name, anticipated arrival time, a graphic with a right-turn arrow, and a button labeled “Exit navigation”

Navigation notifications can have custom background colors supplied by app developers (if allowed by car makers) and can use large icons to show turn arrows or other symbols that graphically reinforce the navigation instruction

Navigation HUNs are the only HUNs that are not also sent to the Notification Center for users to refer to later. They are relevant only during the short time period preceding the turn or other navigation event.

Car makers can prevent navigation notifications from appearing as HUNs if they don’t need them.

How the Notification Center works

The Notification Center is the central destination for interacting with notifications in cars. It is automatically cleared at the beginning of each drive.

Most notifications in cars are listed in the Notification Center, even if they also appear as HUNs and are dismissed in that context. For details regarding types of notifications sent to the Notification Center, visit Which notification appear where.

Access to the Notification Center

Car makers can customize how users access their Notification Center. They can implement it as a shade that users pull down over the current screen, or they can make it a standalone screen that users access via a button on the system status bar or navigation bar.

Video of Notification Center overlay pulled down over the screen and then up
When the Notification Center is implemented as a shade, users can swipe down from the top of the screen to pull it down, then swipe up from the handlebar of the shade to pull it back up

List order and scrolling

Within the Notification Center, notifications are presented in a scrolling list, in order of priority (highest to lowest), where priority is determined by category and importance level. Notifications in the categories of CAR_EMERGENCY and CAR_WARNING have the highest priority, so they are always at the top.

Vertical list showing first and second notification cards in the Notification Center
When a new notification arrives while the Notification Center is open, it’s placed at the top of the list until the next time the Notification Center is closed and reopened. If the new message is of HIGH importance and fits within one of the HUN categories, car makers can decide whether it should appear as a HUN on top of the Notification Center.

Interacting with grouped notifications

If a single app has 4 or more notifications in the Notification Center that belong to a group, those notifications are grouped into a single card. Swiping on a grouped notification card dismisses all of the notifications in the group.

Grouped notifications have an expand or “show more” button that users can tap to show all notifications in the group and interact with them individually. When the group is expanded, the same button can be used to collapse the notifications back into a single card (“show less”).

Expanded version of a grouped notification shows all individual notifications in the group
In this expanded version of a grouped notification, users can tap the button in the upper right corner to collapse the group into a single notification card

Interacting with individual notifications

Within the Notification Center, users can browse, respond to, and dismiss notifications. As with message HUNs, users can play messages directly from the corresponding message notifications.

Users can dismiss individual notifications in the Notifications Center by swiping them.

Vertical list of notifications with one notification sliding to the right
Touching a notification and swiping to the right or left dismisses the notification from the Notification Center

Dismissing a message notification does not delete the corresponding message. However, dismissing other types of notifications in the Notification Center deletes them (removes them from the user experience).

Closing the Notification Center

Users can close the Notification Center in a variety of ways. Depending on how the car maker has implemented the Notification Center, users may be able to close it by:

  • Interacting with a notification in a way that launches another foreground activity
  • Tapping outside of the card area
  • Tapping on the system status bar or navigation bar (if visible)
  • Swiping up on the handlebar of the shade (if the Notification Center is implemented as a shade)

In addition, car makers who include a “Clear all” action in the header or footer for their Notification Center can configure this action to close the Notification Center when the notifications are all removed.

Video of Notification Center overlay being dismissed by tapping on the outside edges
Tapping outside of the cards is one way to close the Notification Center