Auto Tech: BMW ConnectedDrive automotive technology car culture bmw auto tech
BMW ConnectedDrive. Click image to enlarge

Article by Jonathan Yarkony; photos by Jonathan Yarkony and courtesy BMW

BMW recently invited us to an event to introduce us to the next generation of improvements to ConnectedDrive, their term for in-car connectivity and infotainment interface. The event was held at an airport hangar, with one of Chartright Airlines’ private charter jets also on hand for us to “ooh” and “aaah” over, and to reaffirm the notion that BMW cars are for, well, the jetsetting crowd.

Centre stage was a pre-production 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid7 that will be one of the first models to offer many of the features previewed in this article. First and foremost, the aim of BMW’s ConnectedDrive is to assist the customer with operation while driving, always aiming to decrease the time and attention it takes to execute various tasks like plot a navigation route, play a song, or find a restaurant.

We are still a long way from these systems becoming truly intuitive, so BMW starts every ownership experience with a “delivery specialist” to run down the complex array of features and capabilities, and they aim to have a dedicated ConnectedDrive Specialist (as we had at this event) at every dealership in order to delve into the further complexity of iDrive, BMW Apps, and more.

Auto Tech: BMW ConnectedDrive automotive technology car culture bmw auto tech
Auto Tech: BMW ConnectedDrive automotive technology car culture bmw auto tech
BMW ConnectedDrive. Click image to enlarge

At every level of the interface, BMW’s system is visually pleasing, and the screens themselves are higher resolution than most you’ll find even in other luxury cars. And yes, I meant screens, plural. The ActiveHybrid7 featured a large centre-mounted screen for driver and front passenger, and two backrest-mounted screens for rear seat residents. Front screens are controlled by the familiar iKnob (BMW doesn’t actually call it that, but it seems apropos) that can be pressed, spun, or pushed to the cardinal points for various menu naviagation. Rear seat passengers share one remote iKnob that mimics the operation of the one in front—a simple switch switches control from left to right. It stands to reason that a second remote could be acquired for multiple VIP passengers.

It should also be note that the quality of image is matched by the quality of design, both in menus and in maps. In menus, BMW iDrive/ConnectedDrive designers who made a presentation online cited Steve Jobs quote that “Design is not what a thing looks like, it’s how a thing works” as the inspiration behind their continued efforts to upgrade and refine its operation. BMW’s commitment to the electronic arts pays dividends, as iDrive has won over many of its initial critics with an ever-simpler and more intuitive menu structure.

Elements of design from art, architecture, and furniture and play of light and shadow on 3D objects to help orient user and offer holistic experience and more intuitive navigation. One example is a curved arc on the main menu screen to the left of the menu items, and scrolling down the list corresponds to the direction in which you must rotate the knob. It may not seem like much, but it is genuinely easier to orient oneself onscreen when the electronic navigation reflects the physical action necessary to make it happen.

Maps, too, are adding more features to make navigation easier and more natural. ConnectedDrive already offers a split-screen mode and recently added 3D renderings of major landmarks and downtown buildings in bird’s-eye-view mode. The secondary screen can provide an alternate map view, trip computer info, or audio settings as set by the user. Real-time traffic info is one of the new features coming on 2013 7 Series and 5 Series, and the navigation will offer better intersection diagrams when approaching key points on the route.




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.