Mikkel Høgh

Coding the web since 1999

29 Aug 2019

How software made me loathe my luxury car


I am the disgruntled owner of a 2015 BMW 320d xDrive. That’s a luxury car, at least to a Dane. And I’m a bit surprised that it’s come to this point.

It is, mechanically, a wonderful car. The double-clutch transmission is smooth, it’s easy to drive, the engine is modest, but decent, the milage is great (20 km/l or ~47 mpg), the seats are comfortable, the heads up display is neat, the controls are well thought out, the design is pleasing, and so on.

I used to love that car. It’s the first nice car I’ve owned (in Denmark, there was a 225% tax (VAT included) on cars last I bought one, so most people get the smallest, crappiest car that can work for their needs).

But over the years, I’ve really come to resent the car and it’s maker to the point where I’m not sure what I’ll get to replace it, but I’m 100% certain it won’t be a BMW.

Here’s my main reasons:

  1. The built-in GPS is next to useless, since the maps are from 2015. In theory, I could purchase a map update from BMW, which I’ve tried several times. But the site (BMW ConnectedDrive) that sells map upgrade is a mess. All the times I’ve tried, I’ve run in to one error or another. That site is all around awful. Completely indecipherable error messages, shoddy layout and design work, you name it.
  2. When playing audio via USB (from my iPhone), iDrive often flakes out and starts sending a continuous stream of “play” signals to my phone. That means, if the audio is ever paused, like if I’m using the phone’s GPS for navigation, and it’s telling me where to go (where iOS auto-pauses the playing audio), iDrive then demands it keeps playing, so it resumes playing my podcast, so you have the podcast and Siri talking over each other, so it’s hard to hear either clearly, which means I’ve sometimes got in the wrong lane or missed a term, because I couldn’t hear was Siri was trying to tell me. The only reliable way to pause is to press iDrive’s mute button. But then you can’t hear Siri at all.
  3. Connecting via Bluetooth is flaky. Some times, it randomly loses connection. Other times it won’t connect at all. Some times, it just takes several minutes. There’s a reason I almost always connect via USB.
  4. Voice control via Siri doesn’t work when connected to iDrive. When Siri triggers, iDrive tries to “help” by hijacking the audio input, to use the car’s microphone. That would be nice if it worked, but it never does. Whatever I do, Siri never gets the message. I’ve often wanted to do stuff like “Hey Siri, give me directions to Somesuchplace” or “Hey Siri, send a message to Colleague’s Name Here, I’m stuck in traffic, will be there a little late, sorry”, but unless I disconnect my phone first (kinda ruining the whole idea by having to fiddle with my phone while driving), there’s no way of doing so.
  5. The iDrive “apps” are half-baked. There’s only a few of them, and only one that’s relevant for me, their Audible app. When it works, it lets me play audio from the Audible app on the iPhone and provides a decent player-interface on the iDrive display, like a poor-mans CarPlay, but just for Audible. But it doesn’t start automatically, you have to go spelunking in iDrive’s nested menu hierarchies to find it, and some times it doesn’t even show up, making looking for it in the menus extra annoying.
  6. No Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto) at all. Once I’d driven a car with CarPlay, you didn’t want to drive a car without it.
  7. Worst of all, some of these things could theoretically have been fixed already. I used to be able to download software updates from the BMW ConnectedDrive site, but after they last redesigned it, I’ve been unable to find them. And considering they had a serious software security problem last year, that’s not very comforting.

Since I drive to work every day, and I always want to listen to audio while doing so. Whether it be audiobooks, music or podcasts, the poor audio-integration with the car is a daily frustration.

And yes, I’m sure that my local BMW stealership would offer to try and fix some of these problems, but I’m equally sure I’d be charged some outrageous fee for that “service”.

At this point I am just waiting for my lease to be up, then I’ll try to find a car with some decent software, since that has become my priority number 1.

Apple CarPlay screenshot

CarPlay will be non-negotiable. I don’t want to have a separate computer system to manage in my car. I want to use the insanely powerful pocket computer I always have with me with my car’s audio system and display.

And even the newest BMWs get really poor reviews in that department. Not only do they charge you extra to use CarPlay. Even though you own a car with CarPlay-capable hardware, BMW charges a yearly fee to let you use that hardware. And they only support wireless CarPlay – and while that might sound nice, it is, according to the reviews I’ve read, rather flaky, like Bluetooth in my current car.

From what I’m hearing, I’m not alone with my prioritisation of software quality. People are getting used to have good quality software in their phones and getting less tolerant towards things that don’t work well.

I think the market will be quite unforgiving to the car brands that do not prioritise software quality in the future.

At least, I hope so.