BMW announced a big update to the way it handles connected services in its cars. New models will get a dedicated SIM car built into the car, and let owners subscribe to services from the dashboard.
In recent years, BMW has added online features to its iDrive car electronics in seeming haphazard fashion. Some apps are built in while others come courtesy of a smartphone connection to the car. Although this new iteration of BMW's connected services does not consolidate its approaches, it brings a little more organization and clarification, while also promising to extend smartphone integration to Android.
Drivers running the ConnectDrive app on their iPhones currently can take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, an Internet radio service, and Wiki Local, which shows information from Wikipedia about local landmarks. BMW says it will release a version of the ConnectedDrive app for Android this summer.
As for using social media in the car, BMW says people find it useful for updating friends on their current whereabouts, rather than sharing photos of kittens while driving.
BMW Online services are delivered through a dedicated data connection in the car. BMW says that beginning this year, it will equip most new models with a SIM card appropriate to the country in which they have been sold. With this new scheme, owners will be able to pay for additional services through the car's interface or on an owner Web site.
Owners can browse a selection of online services in the in-dash store, selecting a feature such as traffic and then paying for it with saved credit card information. BMW did not address whether it might charge different rates for different markets.
Owners can choose from a variety of applications in the BMW Online section of the interface. BMW will likely not be charging for each application as a separate service, although the owner will have to pay for the car's data connection.
In addition to online music services available through the BMW Connected app, owners can also subscribe to services built into the car. Currently set to launch in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Spain, and Italy, this service will include 12 million songs and more than 250 curated music channels.
BMW notes that the advantage of the built-in music service is that the car will cache tracks, downloading as many as possible on the chosen playlist while the car is in range of a data connection. If the car loses its connection temporarily, the driver will still be able to listen to music.
As offering this type of music service requires licensing, new regions should become available as contracts are signed. Given the large number of online music services in the U.S., it should not take BMW long to find a partner.