BMW Connected+ review: Hands on with the app that wants to be iCloud for cars
Like many people, I have an iPhone. I know it’s not the best smartphone on the market, but because I use a MacBook, iPad and occasionally (when I can find it) Apple Watch, I’ve stuck with an Apple handset. In short, a seamless ecosystem is a very attractive thing for consumers, and that’s why BMW has developed its new Connected+ app.
In 2017, a new car is like any other connected device, so naturally BMW wants to create its own version of iCloud. Designed to follow you through your home, your walks and everywhere else, Connected+ is for the times you’re not actually in your car. It’s an ambitious product, because it represents a car maker trying moving into the smartphone and mobile tech secto – something you couldn’t have predicted even twenty years ago. So how good is it anyway? BMW took me to its Chicago R&D hub – one of four around the world – to try it out.
BMW Connected+: The idea
Connected apps have been in cars for the past three or four years now, and their usefulness is… limited at best. Sure, once you’re set up they’re good for checking Twitter, maybe getting your emails and finding out the news, but often getting set up is a lengthy procedure. It’s a great thing to have them in a car because it’s a feat of technology but, in practice, using them isn’t ideal. BMW wants to change that with the Connected+ app , and to explain how it works, it’s easier to describe a typical scenario with it.
You’ve set up a meeting on your BMW Connected+ calendar, and because of heavy traffic it sends you a notification on your Apple Watch telling you to leave the house. If you’re me, you probably forget your Apple Watch, but the BMW Connected+ app on your smartphone continues to give you directions to your car. Once you finally jump in your BMW, you’ll see the next leg of your journey ready to go on the car’s homescreen, along with any other notifications, Skpye calls and invites you may have got.
Just like Apple’s Handoff feature, which allows users to access Safari tabs, emails and more across devices, BMW’s app can move information to wherever you want to interact with it. BMW Connected+ is currently available on iOS and Android smartphones, the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear and Amazon Echo – so it will work with Alexa too.
In the same way iCloud relies on an Apple ID, BMW’s Connected+ needs a profile for you too, which is called BMW ID. BMW says having an ID will enable Connected+ to learn your habits and help at the right times, and in the future it could also offer you benefits from third parties – if you allow BMW to share your data, that is.
So how is it?
I used BMW Connected+ in Chicago for most of the day, and found it very promising. After syncing up a smartphone, my smartwatch and the car, all three worked together in unison, making travelling to my destinations in Chicago extremely easy. Those who use car parks frequently or don’t have off-street parking will find directions to your car on the Apple Watch and iPhone particularly useful, but the best thing about the app had to be its accessibility.
Once paired with your car, the BMW Connected+ app took its own share of the 5 Series’ touchscreen. The result? It was comforting to see the rest of my journey right in front of me when I got in the car, and I didn’t need to navigate through loads of menus to get to what I wanted – common practice for many connected apps. From there it was also easy to do more useful things such as share my ETA or my journey, which is actually a really useful feature as it even lets people follow your journey on a desktop.
Verdict and competition
BMW Connected+ is already worth downloading, and it’s clear from the huge amount of R&D resources I saw that BMW is committed to making BMW ID successful as well. There are four hubs around the world working on the app, pushing out an update around every two weeks, and BMW’s Chicago office had far more of startup environment than an automotive. But whether or not Connected+ will be successful depends on what Apple and Google do with CarPlay and Android Auto.
So many companies want to have your data, want you to use their voice assistants, and want you to use their apps, so there’s a danger BMW’s app and forthcoming digital assistant could get lost among the competition. And it has one major drawback compared to Apple and Google’s systems, too.
A BMW ID only makes sense if you’ve got a BMW car: if you change brand,, it will become useless. In contrast, an Apple- or Google-based ecosystem is likely to be supported in almost every make of car. I’m sure BMW is hoping that the experience of BMW Connected+ along with the quality of its cars will keep customers buying BMWs – just like I’ll probably keep buying iPhones – but whether that’s the right call or not remains to be seen.