Take a tour of BMW's new Mog online music system

CNET takes a hands-on look at the new Mog online music system in a BMW 650i. Relying on an iPhone, the Mog interface lets the driver choose from 14 million tracks.

BMW MOG interface
BMW is the first automaker to integrate an online music selection service into a production car. James Martin/CNET

My iPhone, with 8GB of memory, can hold about 1,700 tracks. A BMW's internal hard drive has room for almost 3,000 tracks. Now, BMW's new Mog integration puts 14 million tracks at a driver's fingertips.

I sat in the driver's seat of a 2012 BMW 650i, with Robert Passaro, the head of BMW's App Center, in the passenger seat. But we weren't going anywhere. Our entire focus was on the stereo.

Passaro slotted an iPhone 4S into the BMW's cradle, nestled in the console compartment. Tapping the Mog icon on the phone, the app launched, but showed a custom graphic with the BMW logo instead of the standard Mog iPhone interface.

On the wide, 10.2-inch LCD mounted in the 650i's dashboard, a Mog entry asserted itself among the list of onboard audio sources. With the car's iDrive controller, I selected it and was treated to a screen showing cover art for the current track, along with a set of icons on the left for search, track skipping, marking a track as a favorite, and reviewing the current playlist. The icons of this screen were all arranged in the familiar BMW iDrive format.

BMW integrated the Mog app with its latest cars late last year, making it the first automaker to integrate an online, on-demand music selection service. Many automakers have or are starting to integrate Pandora, but that service uses a radio paradigm. Similar to Rhapsody and Spotify, Mog lets you pick specific artists and albums.

Using iDrive, I chose the search option and was given the options of search for an artist, album, or specific song. I was pleased to see this particular screen, because I've long complained about BMW's standard iPod integration, which forces you to go through a set of filters to dig through your music library. The type of search in the Mog interface made much more sense.

Selecting artist search, another screen came up showing BMW's standard rotary letter selector. I inwardly groaned, as it is very tedious turning the dial around to find each letter. It is actually worse than the old rotary phones, as those only had nine digits. But as I began selecting the letters in the artist name Dr. Dog, a list on the right of the screen immediately began to populate with suggestions. By the time I had entered D and R, Dr. Dog appeared on the list. That wasn't so bad after all.

Once I had a track queued up, Passaro pointed me to the Options menu, where I was able to tell Mog whether to continue playing every song it could find from Dr. Dog, or mix in tracks from what it thinks are similar artists. The similar artists option makes it a more Pandora-like stream, so I wouldn't be forced to search for a new artist when I got bored with Dr. Dog.

Another icon, which I think is supposed to represent books on a shelf, led to other Mog music lists, such as Editors' Picks and New Releases. Both of these were welcome for exploring new music, especially when I could not think of a particular artist I wanted to hear.

Spending a little time driving around and listening to the Mog stream, I was not all that impressed with the audio quality. I switched back and forth between music stored on an iPhone and the Mog stream, and the latter was noticeably inferior. Mog streams music in AAC format at 64kbps to the phone by default, which is just enough to be listenable. The high quality of the stereo system in the 650i probably made the compression more obvious.

When using Mog's Web interface on a computer, the music is streamed at 320Kbps. There is a setting on the iPhone app to switch to the higher bit rate, but even 64Kbps would challenge most 2GB data caps for a heavy listener.

For now, BMW only supports Mog and Pandora integration on the iPhone, although the company is working on Android integration. And the system will only work in BMW models that have been updated to read music digitally off an iPhone.

 

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