Back in the day, in-car entertainment mainly consisted of playing I spy or singing Coming 'round the mountain until a small piece of you died inside. That's all changed now, though. For example, BMW's newly updated ConnectedDrive infotainment system now comprises a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, an integrated Web browser and a sat-nav that features Google Street View.
ConnectedDrive, available on most BMW models, offers a variety of features designed to improve the comfort, safety and entertainment value of your journey. Arguably the most exciting of these is BMW Internet, a feature that gives users unlimited access to the Web via a browser on the car's integrated display.
From a stationary vehicle, the driver and front passenger can surf the Internet via the car's iDrive user interface, twisting and pressing the joystick on the centre console to control an on-screen cursor.
Previously, Web browsing capability came courtesy of the car's built-in SIM card, but, as of this month, BMW is allowing its customers to get online in a couple of new ways. Firstly, drivers can tether a 3G mobile phone via Bluetooth, utilising their handset's data connection to access the Web on the car's integrated browser.
The company will also roll out a Wi-Fi hotspot function that allows users to connect a 3G broadband dongle via one of the car's USB ports. Again, this allows users to go online via the car's own browser, but also to access the Web on laptops and tablet PCs over a Wi-Fi hotspot created by the vehicle.
As if that wasn't enough, Google has also supplied ConnectedDrive with a variety of Google services that are accessible outside of the browser. When entering an address into the sat-nav, users have the option to view 360-degree images of their destination using Street View. The driver can also view images uploaded to Google's Panoramio website by the general public.
Finally, BMW has updated ConnectDrive with a variety of phone-based mobile-office features. The system will read aloud emails and texts received on BlackBerry smart phones and display calendar entries and contacts (complete with pictures) on the vehicle's integrated display.
Thanks to support for updated Bluetooth features in the Apple iOS 4 operating system, BMW users can also control almost every feature on an iPhone 4 via the car's central display or the remote buttons on the steering wheel.
ConnectedDrive is available on most BMWs, including new 1 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, hybrid, M, X and Z4 models, and can be retrofitted to older BMW models.
Click through our photo gallery above to get a closer look at all the features mentioned above.