My father rented a Hyundai Kona this morning for a road trip along the Oregon Coast. It's a base SE model in Surf Blue that typically starts at $21,085. As my parents were leaving, I explained that the Kona comes standard with Apple CarPlay, and then showed my dad how he can use Google Maps through the car's standard touchscreen and USB port. Just plug in your phone, press the Apple CarPlay button prominently displayed on the home screen, and voila! Yes, you have to "unlock" your iPhone the first time, but never again thereafter.
OK, now let's contrast this experience with the $102,895 2020 BMW 740i I've been driving the past week. To use Apple CarPlay, I had to …
- Connect my phone to the car's Bluetooth system, which means interacting with both the phone and finding the appropriate menu with BMW's iDrive interface.
- Make sure I'm allowing for Apple CarPlay to be used with that Bluetooth connection and not just interacting with iDrive.
- Confirm the Bluetooth PIN is correct on my phone and the BMW, and then agree to some other things.
- Assuming your phone and car are now paired (an iffy assumption as you'll soon see), you must now find Apple CarPlay in iDrive.
- To do so, press the Media menu button on the center console, twirl the iDrive knob down the various media types: Presets, Sirius XM, FM, AM, some other stuff, and then Apple CarPlay.
- Great, press that icon. Congratulations, you can now use Apple CarPlay.
So, that is quite obviously a pain in the ass, but it does allow you, in theory, to use Apple CarPlay without plugging in your phone. You can therefore leave said phone in your purse, for instance, or keep it charged on the standard wireless charging pad, freeing the cabin from the unsightly iPhone wire that gets in the way of the cupholders.
That's all excellent, plus you'd only have to do that Bluetooth song and dance once, right?
Wrong. I had to do it constantly, both in the BMW 740i as well as the BMW M850i and BMW X7 that have recently passed through my garage. Sometimes it would just take an interminably long time to re-establish the Bluetooth connection. Sometimes it would never re-establish it at all. My phone would indicate it's connected to the car, but the car wouldn't respond in kind. In the 740i, I would connect it once as described above, it would work as it should, then it would essentially forget the next time I drove the car. It's a Groundhog Day of annoyance.
Now, the car would remember my phone if I initially set it to pair with Bluetooth only, no CarPlay. I could still play things through the car, but would have to control my phone with my phone. So at least there's that.
As an added bonus, all of these BMWs claimed that my "USB device (was) not supported" when using the non-Apple lightning wire I use successfully in every other manufacturer's car. The white Apple wire, by contrast, worked fine to successfully charge my phone.
Now, I did not attempt any of this using a different iPhone other than my 6s, so this is a less-than-scientific inquiry. However, my phone is fully updated and I never have these problems with the cars of any other brand that require a hardwire for CarPlay connection. Furthermore, Senior Editor Alex Kierstein reports having similar BMW-CarPlay connectivity issues in an X2 and 3 Series, with inconsistent behavior and an inability to connect his iPhone 6 without deleting and re-connecting via Bluetooth. The 330i also froze his wife's iPhone, forcing a hard restart. According to BMW, the system requirements for Apple CarPlay to function are "an iPhone 5 or newer running iOS 9.3 or higher." That would include both of our phones.
However, there's a kicker to all this: BMW offers Apple CarPlay as a subscription. Oh sure, it's standard on the 7 Series and other high-dollar models for a year like Sirius XM is, but after that trial period, you're paying for it constantly. Once again, CarPlay is standard on a $21,000 Hyundai Kona and cars even cheaper than that. At the very least on other cars, it can be a one-time option charge or included in a package or upper trim level. None of this subscription business. Just plug in a cable and go.
Quite simply, this is unacceptable. If I spent my own money on any of these BMWs, I would be furious. Actually, I didn't spend my own money, and as an X7 full of friends can I attest, I was still furious. Even when I actually could maintain a connection to Apple CarPlay, the interaction between the system and iDrive is still suboptimal relative other car companies. While there are obvious functional benefits of connecting to Apple CarPlay through Bluetooth, that connection clearly doesn't work well enough. That BMW charges you extra for it is absurd. It should be standard, and it should work. Or you should at least be able to bypass the Bluetooth-CarPlay dance entirely with a cable connection.
Then again, it could be worse: Several of our editors have Android phones. Android Auto isn't available on any BMW. On the $21,085 rented Hyundai? Standard.