We Test BMW's Newest Connectivity Features
Despite the generous expenditure of dollars and time, seamless integration between vehicles and personal electronics is something that’s largely eluded the automotive industry. But BMW may have finally made this dream a reality with its Connected+ digital services platform.
Launching this month, the Bavarian firm’s latest personal mobility assistant builds on what its existing BMW Connected architecture offers by adding several new functions. We got a chance to experience this system during a brief drive through downtown Chicago, Illinois, in a 530e sedan.
But first, an overview of what this technology is capable of. Like its predecessor, Connected+ allows you to remotely lock or unlock your BMW, keep track of where it’s parked, easily access turn-by-turn directions and do much more, but several features set this latest iteration apart. One of its most intriguing additions is the ability to send your location to friends or colleagues, which is great if, for instance, you’re headed to a meeting, as they can track your progress.
In addition to this, Connected+ also integrates with your calendar so it can alert you when it’s time to leave for an appointment, factoring in real-time traffic data so you’re never late.
Feeling spontaneous? You can search for a destination on your smartphone and easily hand the address off to your BMW so it can navigate you there. This can be done with the mapping service of your choice; relevant data gets shared with the Connected app, which seamlessly communicates with your vehicle.
Providing valuable information, Connected+ can even detect road hazards like heavy rain, displaying a warning on other BMW navigation systems, alerting drivers to potential trouble. Enabling this, the system anonymously collects location, temperature, windshield-wiper speed and other data. In future updates, they may even access on-vehicle cameras to help report on things like road construction.
Addressing privacy fears, Thom Brenner, vice president of BMW Business Line and Connected Life said, “We don’t sell data.” They might exchange this sort of information with partners but it’s not available to anyone else.
In addition to all this capability, Connected+ has some serious smarts. According to Dieter May, senior vice president of digital products and services at BMW, “Through machine learning, we make life easier for the customer.” For instance, this system can figure out where you live and work to provide the quickest route home after a long day at the office.
An Unlikely Partner
Many of these functions, while eminently useful, are something of a no-brainer; shouldn’t every modern car be able to remind you where it’s parked or share location data as desired? What will really make Connected+ stand out is on-the-go productivity. Launching this autumn, users will be able to securely access e-mail and even make Skype calls from the driver’s seat. Enabling this functionality, BMW has joined forces with Microsoft.
“We’re delighted to be working with BMW,” said Chris Broody, managing director of business development at the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant. The companies partnered about two and a half years ago in order to bring these unique functions to market.
Of course, one big question is whether motorists should be wrangling with e-mails while behind the wheel. May assuaged distracted-driving fears by noting they will meet all regulatory requirements. Like sending a text message while traveling 75 miles an hour on the highway he said, “[It’s] up to the discretion of the user to decide.”
Connected+ functionality is accessible through applications offered on iOS and Android devices, or via integration with Amazon Alexa. To experience it firsthand, BMW loaned us iPhones and Apple Watches.
Finding pre-selected addresses in the Connected App was a snap. The user interface is clean and immediately familiar to anyone that’s ever operated a smartphone. Likewise, performance is speedy without any annoying delays.
After selecting a destination in the phone, entering the car is about that’s necessary to start navigating; it’s exceptionally easy to get going, far simpler than entering an address through the iDrive system.
Later that day, the Apple Watch, which coordinates with everything else, gently tapped my wrist, notifying me and my drive partner that it was time to leave for our next stop. Selecting the destination was, once again, a breeze. But perhaps an even niftier feature than this, one paranoid new-vehicle owners are sure to love, is the ability to get a 360-degree view of their BMW. The app can access a car’s external cameras, stitching their views into a zoomable, scrollable image. You can even take photos of the car and where it’s parked, a very clever feature.
Keeping Connected+ secure and flush with new features, the company has ambitious goals. They plan on updating it roughly every two weeks, something that flies in the face of traditional car launches, which often take anywhere between five and seven years. “We are scaling that as an internet company,” said May.
Pricing and Availability
The BMW Connected+ personal mobility assistant is set to launch in a couple weeks, though an exact date has not been nailed down. Connected, its predecessor, debuted in March 2016. Since then it’s exploded in popularity, being offered in 18 different languages and 29 countries. As of last month, it already has more than 1 million users.
Connected Services will be standard in every new BMW built as of July 2017. A basic plan lasts for four years, though a premium subscription, which gets you all of the goodies mentioned above, can be had for a yearly fee, though that figure hasn’t been determined yet.
If you drive an older BMW, there’s no need to worry. Connected+ will be available to owners of vehicles equipped with iDrive 5.0 and 6.0.
Plenty of companies are getting in on the connected-car game these days but this Munich-based automaker’s latest offering could be the segment’s best. Look for Connected+ in new – and recent model-year BMW – very soon.
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Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
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