BMW has a reputation for experimenting with multimedia in the car, and ConnectedDrive is now a big part of the wider iDrive infotainment system. While deep in features, functions and integration, it has a learning curve that requires plenty of time and patience.
The system is arguably one of the deepest any auto maker offers because it packs in so much, and it would take weeks just to get used to it all. Even after that, you would probably discover something new – iDrive encompasses it all, while ConnectedDrive handles the smartphone and Internet component within the overall system.
ConnectedDrive’s connectivity is based on a phone’s data connection, Bluetooth, USB and a dedicated BMW Connected app on iOS (Android coming in July, 2013). There is also specific integration with BlackBerry. A special iPhone 4/4S dock with a 30-pin connector snaps into place inside the armrest, but it’s otherwise irrelevant if you’re not using one.
Bluetooth pairing is a snap, as is streaming audio from your phone or iPod Touch. You can choose songs, artists or playlists by voice, though the recognition is spotty, and it will only play back music from the dedicated music app of the connected device. If you prefer to use an equalizer app for playback, your voice command will switch to the native one.
What’s good is that metadata shows up no matter what you’re listening to. This includes Internet radio, streaming music services, equalizer apps – pretty much anything. Voice commands for satellite radio are spot-on, too. Phone calls were also just as easy to manage, except for some hiccups in recognizing names and commands.
The Connected app, which can work with an iPhone 5 via the USB port, allows you to log into Facebook and Twitter accounts to have tweets and status updates read to you. You can also tweet or update your status through preloaded phrases. You do have the option of writing some into the app in advance and then accessing them after, but there’s no way to do on-the-fly commentary or to even respond to a tweet – a smart safety move by BMW.
Connected proves more useful for streaming Internet radio (it uses TuneIn for that), hearing news from your favourite RSS feeds, a map for locating your car, integration with your calendar, Wikipedia access for useful local knowledge and even an analysis of your driving style.
You’re not obligated to use the app to play back music, but you can’t use Facebook, Twitter or Wikipedia, nor gain access to your calendar if you just keep it plugged into USB without using Connected.
BlackBerrys lose out on the extras Connected offers, but gain on e-mail and messaging. E-mails and text messages can be read aloud to you, while speech-to-text lets you voice a response. Naturally, there’s no Siri integration (iPhone notifications will display on the main screen, however) to do something similar with an iPhone. Android or Windows Phone voice-recognition programs don’t integrate, either.
Never mind iDrive’s depth, ConnectedDrive is deep on its own. My week-long test drive covered the main features, but it would have required weeks to figure out all the system’s nuances and get a handle on how to use it efficiently. Whether that’s the mark of a deeply connected platform entirely depends on your comfort level with the technology.
Tested on a 2013 BMW 750ixDrive.