Back in July 2010 we reported German-based car manufacturer BMW was looking forward to integrating Apple’s iPhone into their automotive experience with a system called iDrive that, featuring a “plugin” option co-developed with Apple, would allow users to connect their iPhones to the car’s dashboard to access a variety of information and media like music from Pandora and the iPod app, as well as status updates coming from Twitter and Facebook.
Autoblog got the chance to try the new iDrive system built into all BMW models from Series 1 to 7 that will begin shipping next month, and reports the integration is really smooth and impressive on a technical side as all rendering is done on the iPhone, with the car’s dashboard only functioning as a screen. A you can see here and in the video embedded below, the iPhone fits in a cradle in the car’s console and is directly connected to the iDrive; with an active 3G connection on the iPhone and the BMW app installed, users will be able to stream music off Pandora’s radio stations with their own accounts, mark songs as favorite and even create new stations using the car’s iDrive knob. The integration goes as far as enabling users to access their Facebook and Twitter streams, with the possibility to generate automated status updates with your location and estimated time of arrival to a specific POI (based on the car’s navigation system) so you don’t have to type the whole message using the knob. BMW also decided to restrict some sections of Twitter and Facebook while a car is in motion, so drivers won’t be distracted by the streams.
BMW calls its Facebook and Twitter integration “Automotive Grade,” which is a nice way of saying “minimalist.” And as it should be. The primary function is less about reading status messages and updates, and more about sending a quick, pre-programmed post on the go. The system can pull in hundreds of data points from the vehicle and navigation system, allowing you to update your status with location information, weather and a host of other data. Want to let your friends know when you’ll be at the restaurant? The app can pull in your location and destination from the sat-nav and post an update saying you’ll be there in 15 minutes. And if the pre-packaged responses aren’t up to snuff, once you unhook the phone from the cradle, you can create your own canned responses and updates directly in the app, which also keeps track of vehicle mileage, service data and a handful of other useful bits of information.
Last, there’s the plugin functionality based on Apple’s iPod Out feature that’s been designed by Apple engineers, and as the name suggests plugs directly into an iPhone’s iPod.app music library to display artist’s information, album artwork and everything you would expect from iOS on a BMW car’s dashboard. It looks really neat and I wish I had the chance to try it out, too.
Videos of BMW iDrive and the background story embedded below.