Geeks rejoice – BMW’s suite of ConnectedDrive applications are finally in Malaysia. In case you were wondering about the title of this story, the BMW apps option is codenamed 6NR on the order sheet. Malaysians got a taste of BMW apps of this type first around the time of the MINI Countryman launch – MINI Connected was introduced first, and the MINI Connected app appeared in the Malaysian iOS App Store around that time.
There’s probably a reason for this – MINI Connected was introduced before BMW Connected in the international market, and this might be because the MINI buyer demographic is made up of people who are early adopters, and are more likely to embrace social media, which are some of the features that ConnectedDrive provides.
BMW Connected was launched in the Malaysian iOS App Store around the launch of the F30 3-Series. If you have a recent BMW, you can check if it supports the ConnectedDrive suite of services by looking at the iDrive main menu to see if the word ConnectedDrive appears as a menu item – it’s normally above the Vehicle Info and Setting menu items.
You can use the basic set of ConnectedDrive services by simply opening the BMW Connected app on your iOS device and connected it via USB port in the armrest (not the one in the glovebox). A further set of features such as full iPod Out support (with an all new iPod music GUI with full support for controlling the Genius playlist features) are only available if you purchase a special Media Cradle dock, but we were not able to test this as the F30 328i CBU that we were testing was not equipped with the Media Cradle. But we’ll walk you through the features that we got to try.
One of the first features you’ll notice on the BMW Connected app once plugging your iPhone into the USB port is a fuel reading display. You’ll be able to see your remaining fuel in litres (instead of an analog display), as well as how many km you can go before you’re stranded. This is the status screen, to access more and make things a little more interesting, you click the little BMW apps icon on the bottom right.
This is the main Apps menu screen where you can see what you can do. There’s Web radio which allows you to listen to streaming radio stations from around the world, read RSS news feeds which you can configure from within the app, as well as Facebook and tweet from your phone in a limited capacity – we’ll go into that soon enough.
The Last Mile feature allows you to continue your navigation on foot once you’ve parked your car. I suppose it could also be used as a way for you to remember where you parked your car if you parked it in a large outdoors space – don’t think GPS is accurate enough for in-door car parks.
There’s a huge list of countries of origin for the Web radio function, so you could be tuning into radio stations in Mongolia or Nepal if you really wanted to. The selection starts off by asking you which continent you even goes down to really weird areas like Antartica.
K-pop fans will be able to stream their favorite music in their car directly from the radio stations in South Korea. Even newer Malaysian radio stations such as BFM 89.9 are listed, and if West Malaysians ever wonder what East Malaysian radio stations sound like, you can tune in to stations like Cats FM.
If you’ve been looking closely are the images, you’ll have noticed different bit rates being listed for different stations – the K-pop station above had a 64kbps stream while BFM was pushing out a 32kbps stream. These aren’t going to sound the best on your BMW Professional audio system, but it’s of an acceptable quality if you just want some variety during rush hour.
And of course, the playability of the streams are going to depend on how reliably your mobile phone’s data network will be able to sustain the stream while you are barreling down the highway at 160km/h.
The stations are also tagged by the type of music they play, so if you decide you like a particular style of music, you can browse for similiar stations.
As I mentioned before, the News app allows you to read your RSS feeds via your iDrive screen. You can define what RSS feeds you would like to load via the BMW Connected app on the iPhone, so you don’t have to go through the horror of keying in lengthy RSS feed addresses via the iDrive control knob.
Here’s an obligatory paultan.org RSS feed entry – you don’t have to “read” it – we tried selecting the speaker button and the F30 3-Series actually read out the contents of the RSS text out to us via the car’s built in text to speech feature.
It doesn’t sound very natural or pleasant to listen to though as it’s very robotic, so we don’t expect anyone to use this feature very often.
Other information that you can retrieve from the service include weather reports for the area you are in.
Here’s something interesting to use if you’re driving to neighboring countries or even nearby states – I’d imagine this would be quite useful in Europe where such cross-country (literally) trips are more common – you can look up Wikipedia entries for the area you are in via the Wiki TourGuide app.
For Facebook access, you’ll have to login to Facebook via the BMW Connected app and iDrive will access your Facebook news feed through your iPhone.
You can view Facebook posts by either friends or fan pages, you can get the car to read out the post via the text to speech feature, and you can “like” the post.
As for posting Facebook updates – you’re kind of limited in the sense that you can’t actually use the iDrive control knob to key in your status message.
Instead, you’re limited to a few predefined messages that’s customised to your surroundings – you can tweet where you are based on the car’s GPS data, or you can tweet the ambient temperature of the area you’re in, etc.
The screen where you can read your Twitter feed is also pretty straight forward – Twitter’s short updates fit easily on the screen for you to read, and BMW also displays the user’s Twitter display picture. Your BMW can also read out your tweets to you.
And like the Facebook status updates, updating your Twitter account is also limited to pre-defined messages such as those in the image above.
And of course, the new ConnectedDrive equipped iDrive systems continues to have a built in web browser – something that’s not new but has been on Malaysian spec BMWs around the time when the F10 5-Series was first introduced.
Your data goes through a proxy server in Germany, so sites like Google and Facebook defaults to a German local version. Keying in addresses with the iDrive knob is hard, but at least there’s a Favorites feature so you can pre-define a few websites that you like to visit.
It all seems quite “canggih”, but other than the Web Radio feature which should be very very useful if you’re sick of the endless ads and gotcha calls on local radio, the limited set of truly “connected” functions in Malaysia doesn’t really add much value to the owner’s experience, especially if you need an a smart phone that runs the BMW Connected app to make it all happen. Why not just use Facebook and Twitter on the smart phone and bypass the whole iDrive stuff?
Things are different overseas as there’s an option for a built in modem and SIM card in the car. We also wish the UI worked a little faster – it seems to take awhile to load screens especially when it’s requesting for data – after all we’re in a society where we’re spoiled by our very quick responding iOS and Android phones.
There’s also alot more you can do with your BMW overseas – for example did you know that in certain countries you can lock and unlock your BMW from your phone, find your car remotely, and activate the lights remotely via a My BMW Remote iOS app?
You can also set a schedule for your climate control to turn on and off, so you could pre-cool down your car interior before you get into it for example. That’s the full potential of BMW Assist and ConnectedDrive, too bad it’s all not available in Malaysia!