► BMW Connected+ is revealed
► Now integrates with Skype calls
► Latest BMW connectivity updates
BMW is boosting its connectivity cred with the launch of Connected+ this week, as it attempts to add a seamless digital experience to its very physical cockpits. Is the ultimate surfing machine nigh?
CAR visited the company’s Chicago tech HQ this week, one of four digital hubs around the world, to discover more about the latest release of BMW Connected Drive. Here’s what we learned.
1) BMW is hellbent on integrating your digital life into the car
Like all car makers, Munich is taking the digital revolution deadly seriously. It launched BMW Connected in March 2016, adding a SIM card to every new car sold. Result? There are now 8.5 million connected BMWs globally. They are integrating ever more services to enrich the digital experience and make the car more sentient. So you can now navigate to a meeting as the car accesses your calendar details, and from autumn 2017 you’ll be able to send live ETA and journey tracking details to your nearest and dearest, or colleagues, so they know when you’ll arrive. And that’s just the beginning…
2) The mobile office: Skype calls, emails and calendar invites follow you everywhere
BMW has ramped up its partnership with Microsoft and is putting the tech giant’s productivity suite into every BMW Connected car. Your Exchange email and calendar accounts can be accessed on the move, so you can have emails read out, compose messages or – from autumn 2017 – join a Skype conference call all from the driver’s seat. Whether you welcome work following you 24/7 will probably come down to your position on the hierarchical greasy pole at work. BMWs are driven by high-fliers, right?
3) Some of the fun features are the best
In its digital transformation, BMW is increasingly becoming data-driven. And the analytics show that the simplest features are among the most popular. Pre-heating or cooling the cabin via the BMW Connected app remains one of the most used functions on the iOS and Android smartphone app. Genuinely useful physical features bests digital trickery every time.
4) Machine learning means your BMW learns your preferences
Artificial intelligence is here and now in your next BMW. The latest release means your car learns your behavioural patterns and will suggest likely destinations, your preferred petrol stations and most favoured contacts. Over time this will magnify, as BMW attempts to second-guess user intent more and more, using AI and machine learning to spot patterns in your behaviour. It’s all stored in your BMW ID, which is portable from car to car. Your preferences will therefore be available on any BMW group product you drive.
5) It’s all about locking you into BMW’s ecosystem
Munich is desperate to make sure you’re embedded in its digital life, not rivals’. Or – more likely in the long game – those of Google, Apple, Amazon or Facebook. Ever tried to port your Apple iTunes library elsewhere? Getting users locked into the BMW ecosystem of apps and services is important, says BMW. It hopes to wow users with its seamless digital integration, so they’ll find it hard to even consider quitting for the competition’s services. That BMW ID doesn’t have an open-graph Share To Daimler function…
6) Physical vs digital: how to beat obsolescence
There’s a paradox here: car makers are locked into long 5-7 year product cycles, yet its tech teams in Chicago, Paulo Alto, Shanghai and Tokyo work on two-week sprints, meaning the coders release software upgrades every fortnight. This is the key to BMW’s vision. The physical head unit in the car is only a small part of the chain – the power of the software and features lies in the cloud (powered by Microsoft Azure) and on users’ connected devices, whether that’s a phone, watch or Amazon Echo. Over-the-air updates should mean your car gains new features regularly, preventing the physical infotainment becoming outdated.
7) Think intelligent personal assistant
Speaking of Amazon Echo, BMW Connect+ now connects with Alexa, letting you talk to your Amazon device to send navigation destinations and meetings to your car by voice. And BMW developers are actively working with the world’s biggest search giant to integrate Google Home next. The small number of partners currently in the BMW sphere is about to proliferate, as it moves beyond basic entertainment services such as Deezer and Spotify to add richer services onboard.
8) They’re playing a long game: this is all about autonomous cars
It’s easy to think that some of the services being rolled out by BMW are somewhat distracting. Do you really want to be in a high-pressure conference call while navigating the M25 seven metres off the car in front’s bumper? The reality is that BMW is planning for an autonomous future, where the car will – bit by bit – take over more and more of the mundane task of driving, eventually freeing up the driver to be able to work or play behind the wheel. It might be overkill today, but this is why you should take this major digital integration seriously. Today’s small head-up displays will likely be replaced by full windshield monitors. Imagine if Microsoft’s Xbox games were beamed onto your windows immersively, letting you play a virtual reality F1 driving game, as your 318e drives itself to your next meeting.