BMW launched four brand-new infotainment apps at the New York Auto Show: Audible, Rhapsody, Glympse and Tune In. It's a sign of how big in-car apps already are in the US and, no doubt, will be in other markets soon. Every major manufacturer is working on them, and they were a hot topic at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Using apps rather than building in new in-car entertainments systems has two main advantages. First, people upgrade their phones frequently to keep pace with technology - you can't update your car so easily. (Remember cars with tape decks, eight tracks? in-car record players?) Second, the apps simply allows the car to use a system offered and developed by specialist companies in the market. The car manufacturer just need to aprove the app once it's developed.
In January, Ford announced its developer program, which will allow app developers to connect their Android and iPhone apps to Ford’s SYNC voice-activated interface. Developers can submit a Ford-compatible app for review “to ensure it works properly and is suitable for use in the vehicle.”
In March, VW announced its social media app developed with Google, which allows users to share their road-trip through photos, videos and comments via interactive maps.
All of BMW and Mini's new apps will be delivered through the car’s dash display and audio system, but will work just the same as if you signed up on the phone.
We spoke to David Bloom, manager of the BMW AppCenter in California. His team works with AppCenters in Germany and Shanghai to research the best apps for the BMW and Mini brands worldwide.
He told us “We’re not interested in tons of apps, the apps need to be the most useful, high-quality and safe.”
BMW’s approach is that people are increasingly connected via their smartphones, and they should be able to take the same services into the car. Passengers, of course, can continue to use their phone, but the driver needs to concentrate on the road, so apps need to be accessed easily with minimal clicks.
Audible allows you to download books and magazines to your phone, then you can listen to the spoken content on a long road trip. If you’re supposed to be somewhere, but you’re stuck in traffic, Glympse allows you to send ahead a ‘glimpse’ of exactly where you are in a few clicks. Rhapsody is a premium subscription music service. Finally Tune In is the company’s own app that works with BMW or Mini Connected Drive internet to stream music from radio stations.
For those who love their smartphones and can’t get enough apps, this is all great news. For those who are more anxious about using them, BMW is planning a Genius program in dealerships, so they can go along and get a demonstration in a similar way to Apple stores.