Which Is Better for Your BMW in 2022: iDrive, CarPlay, or Android Auto?

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iDrive
from BMW
The iDrive interface has been a mainstay in BMWs since it was launched in
2001. Although this initial version was pretty cumbersome to use and wasn’t
exactly attractive, the system has since come on leaps and bounds.

Pros
The current generation iDrive definitely offers a much smoother experience
than it did in the past. What’s more, as it was developed specifically for
use in BMWs, it’s perfectly integrated with your vehicle and all its factory
features. This makes iDrive the best option if you’re looking for an
all-in-one solution. It lets you adjust your car settings and check vehicle
status, access navigation information and thanks to mobile phone integration
through BMW Apps enjoy services like Pandora and Spotify, all through the
same interface.
With all these features available, why would you even consider another
system?

Cons
Firstly, perhaps the most obvious use for an in-car computer is for help
finding the way from A to B. Most of us, though, are now used to carrying
Google Maps with us wherever we go, and ditching that for iDrive’s far more
limited navigation offering seems pretty counter-intuitive.
Secondly, although iDrive can offer mobile office functions, in-car
telephony and more, these connected features are generally reliant on your
smartphone. And unfortunately, compatibility isn’t exactly a given. Your
smartphone, the version of iOS or Android it’s running and the iDrive
software installed in your car can all influence what features will and won’t
work. Buying a new phone can be more stress than it’s worth, when there’s no
guarantee that the in-car features you rely on will continue to function with
your new handset.
Finally, not everybody is convinced by the quality of the user experience.
BMW has worked hard to improve the iDrive since it was first introduced, but
there is still a long way to go to match the expertise of the likes of Apple
and Google. These companies are able to draw on their vast experience
creating the user interfaces that we interact with every day on our
cellphones. The ubiquitousness of iOS and Android also means that CarPlay and
Android Auto have the third-party support (be that hardware compatibility or
app availability) that we as smartphone users now take for granted.

These factors taken together explain in part why auto manufacturers have
been so quick to offer CarPlay and/or Android Auto integration in many of
their newer vehicles.
WHAT IS APPLE CARPLAY
CarPlay is Apple’s entry into the infotainment space, and makes it easy to
use iOS apps on your BMW’s iDrive screen. If you’re an iPhone user and want
to replace BMW’s native maps with Waze, make and receive WhatsApp messages
while driving or stream music from Spotify or Apple Music, CarPlay is an
obvious solution. Using Siri you can ask for directions, skip to the next
track, send voice messages or makes calls, without taking your hands off the
wheel or your eyes off the road.

The obvious consequence is increased safety; compared to the BMW native
voice command, Siri is generally more capable, and with the iOS app ecosystem
backing it up, you’re unlikely to miss out on features you need. There’s also
the matter of familiarity you’ll be able to use the same Siri commands you do
on your iPhone.

CarPlay is only available for iPhone users; if you’ve got an Android phone,
you’ll need Android Auto, which offers a lot of the same features. We’ll take
a closer look at it in a moment.
BMW CarPlay subscription
Since July 2019, BMW has offered wireless CarPlay as a subscription
service, available in many 2017 and later vehicles with the necessary
hardware. Yet, after being exposed to customers’ criticism BMW has rethought
its strategy on CarPlay availability. In December 2019 BMW announced that,
starting from 2019/2020 cars with the latest iDrive 7.0, BMW owners won’t
have to pay any kind of fees. Of course, that only covers the newest cars,
and compatible 2018 and older BMWs with iDrive 6.0 will be charged a $300
one-time fee (like an earlier lifetime subscription).

Using CarPlay in your BMW
Operation requires a compatible iPhone (all models since the iPhone 5
running iOS 9.3 or higher) running the CarPlay app, which is connected to a
CarPlay-compatible head unit. This allows using apps installed on your iPhone
on the dashboard display, all through the custom CarPlay interface.

This doesn’t mean that all your apps can be used in your car, though. Only
CarPlay-enabled apps can be used, and Apple has the final say on which apps
can and can’t be made available for use on CarPlay. While major apps like
iMessage, Apple Maps and Audible are compatible, some of your favorite iPhone
apps are likely to be missing.

Even the apps that do work might not work quite as you’d expect. A lot had
been made of the CarPlay version of Apple Maps, for example, which lacks the
pinch-to-zoom functionality you’d find on your iPhone.

Perfect for iPhone users
The CarPlay interface will, however, prove intuitive to iPhone users,
featuring an app menu that, at first glance, is all but identical to that
found on iOS. This, however, has meant that CarPlay has come in for its fair
share of criticism; although many CarPlay features can be controlled using
voice through Siri, some have still questioned whether an interface designed
with cellphones in mind is the best choice for use in a car.

BMW ANDROID AUTO
The same certainly couldn’t be said of Google’s Android Auto, launched in
2015. While the Material Design found in Android Auto was familiar to owners
of Android smartphones, the Android Auto interface had been built from the
ground up with driving-friendliness in mind. We’ve got a complete
introduction to Android Auto if you want to learn more about it.

Instead of CarPlay’s cellphone-style app menu, Android Auto featured an
on-screen bar allowing quick switching between four different views. A
navigation screen offered Google Maps, including up-to-date traffic
information and spoken navigation instructions. A second screen featured call
and text services. An entertainment screen let you access music from a range
of apps, including Spotify and PocketCasts. Finally, a Google Now-esque home
screen featured a mix of notifications and behavior- and location-specific
cards. Like on your Android smartphone, the content of these cards depended on
the information in your Google Account.

In 2019, though, Google launched a totally new version of Android Auto,
which dropped this approach for an interface far more reminiscent of CarPlay.
The new home screen features an app grid, and a sidebar that lets you toggle
between your two most recently-used apps. In keeping with the Android
approach, a widget section alongside the map lets you control music without
switching apps.

Integration with Google Assistant
The new interface may not make much difference to how you use your car’s
infotainment system, because Android Auto also has a strong focus on the use
of voice commands, for increased safety when driving. Android Auto is fully
integrated with Google Assistant, letting you get directions, place calls or
ask questions by speaking. Like comparing Google Assistant on an Android
smartphone to Siri on an iPhone, Android Auto generally has better voice
recognition and greater voice control capabilities. Siri and CarPlay have
been coming on leaps and bounds with each update, though, so Android Auto’s
lead in that area is shrinking. Nevertheless, for anybody who already an avid
user of Google Assistant, Android Auto offers a great way to bring the Google
ecosystem into your car.

An easy Android Auto hack: use it on your phone
Like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto is operated by connecting your smartphone
(running Android 5.0 or higher) to the vehicle’s Android Auto-compatible head
unit, and uses (some of) the apps installed on your phone.

One major difference between the two, though, was that Android Auto was
also available as a standalone app for cellphones and tablets. This meant
that even those without a compatible factory or aftermarket head unit could
use Android Auto on a mobile device mounted on the dashboard. For owners of
Android smartphones, there’s no doubt that Android Auto was the easiest
third-party system to try before you buy; it only required downloading the
Android Auto app from the Google Play Store.

Google has, however, announced plans to remove this functionality with the
latest Android Auto app update. Instead, Google Assistant is due to introduce
a special driving mode, offering some of the same ease-of-use and safety
features of Android Auto. That puts Android users in the same position as
iPhone owners, needing an Android Auto-compatible head unit to take full
advantage of their phones infotainment capabilities.

HOW TO GET ANDROID AUTO IN BMW
If you’ve given Android Auto a try and like what you find, you’re going to
be thrilled by the fact that BMW introduced Android Auto to all vehicles with
iDrive 7.0. This means we can activate BMW-original Android Auto in your
2019+ BMW remotely! As we unlock your iDrive’s built-in Android functionality
through a remote coding session, everything will be perfectly integrated with
the rest of your infotainment system.

And for those whose BMWs come with older iDrive versions you also have a
chance to add Android Auto to your car. Third-party Android Auto head units
have proliferated in recent years, giving car owners an effective way to add
Android Auto to their vehicles.
At that point, the choice is between a one-size-fits-all head unit from a
brand like Kenwood or Pioneer, or a specialised Android Auto BMW retrofit
that has been designed with BMWs in mind, such as Autosvs’s fully featured
Android Auto module. The latter has the advantage of improved integration
with your car, letting you use Android Auto on your factory dashboard screen,
instead of having to add a new screen as part of the retrofit.

ANDROID AUTO BMW RETROFIT
As a BMW-specific retrofit, Autosvs’s Android Auto MMI Prime is the easiest
and best integrated way to add Android Auto to your 2008+ BMW. A
plug-and-play module connects to your iDrive, letting you use Android Auto on
the factory dashboard display. What’s more, you can navigate Android Auto
easily using your iDrive controller, dashboard buttons and Google Assistant.

Android Auto also includes a Screen Mirroring option, which lets you cast
the screen of your mobile device onto the BMW’s display, and stream audio
through the car speakers with the help of the Android Autolink app. It’s an
easy way to use mobile apps not yet available through Android Auto.

The audio output circuit in the Android Auto MMI Prime has been
specifically selected to squeeze all the quality we can out of the iDrive AUX
input, providing great audio quality for music, streaming and calls.
The MMI also has a built-in 8-band equalizer, great for adjusting the sound
in your BMW, especially if you don’t have a multi-band equalizer in your
iDrive system.
Every element of the kit is designed to fit perfectly with your BMW, for a
perfectly smooth user experience. What’s more, a third-party unit like
Autosvs’s is the closest you’ll get to the feeling of a native Android Auto
installation.

Connecting your smartphone to your BMW
Each system has its advantages and drawbacks. iDrive’s thorough integration
makes it a great choice if ease of use is a priority; owners of the BMW
models with CarPlay-compatible head units still need to exit CarPlay and
return to iDrive to modify vehicle settings. iDrive also doesn’t require
connecting your cell phone, perhaps making it a little more usable in some
situations.

What CarPlay and Android Auto may lack in convenience, though, they make up
for in versatility. For many, being able to use the same apps across your
smartphone and car makes all the difference. CarPlay and Android Auto both
offer far better app support than iDrive.

GETTING MORE APPS IN YOUR VEHICLE
Despite this, there are still a lot of apps for iOS and Android that can’t
be used with CarPlay and Android Auto. Furthermore, although BMW has now
begun to offer CarPlay-compatible head units (and these can be retrofitted in
some older models), it maintains that Android Auto will be available only for
BMWs with iDrive 7.0 and newer. With that in mind, if you have an older head
unit going aftermarket is your only choice, unless you’re willing to make do
with the native iDrive system.

For Android users underwhelmed by what iDrive has to offer, or iOS users
looking to enjoy a wider range of apps, a custom solution could be the best
option. Smartphone mirroring or casting lets you use all your mobile apps
without sacrificing the functionality of the iDrive system. As Android Auto
is available as a standalone smartphone app and can be largely controlled
with Google Assistant, this is even an effective way to add Android Auto to
BMWs lacking a touchscreen display.

On the other hand, if you’re happy with the range of apps available through
CarPlay and Android Auto covering most of the mainstream apps you’re likely
to use in your car an aftermarket CarPlay or Android Auto head unit is likely
to offer better integration with your BMW. In the case of Autosvs’s CarPlay
MMI Prime, you don’t even have to choose between CarPlay and Android Auto;
both come preinstalled and ready to use. With both major third-party systems,
no subscription fees and complete integration with the iDrive system,
CarPlay/Android Auto MMI Prime is a flexible option packed with
features.

But of course, which option is best all comes down to just what you want to
do in your BMW…

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