Score a small victory for common sense. BMW is dropping the $80 annual fee it charges owners to plug in and use their Apple iPhones via Apple CarPlay, a charge BMW extorts – sorry, extracts – even though Apple charges BMW no ongoing licensing fee BMW has to recoup. (In case there isn’t enough margin in cars costing $35,000 to $150,000.) BMW said this week the fee will no longer be charged.
BMW’s infotainment system is arguably the industry’s best and most flexible, if you take time to learn iDrive, if you paid the $80 CarPlay fee, and if you didn’t have an Android phone, since BMW doesn’t support Android Auto.
BMW first offered Apple CarPlay in 2016 and charged a one-time $300 fee for the right to use CarPlay. Buyers were not happy. BMW was nickel-and-diming them because, well, BMW thought they could. BMW switched from a one-time $300 fee to $80 a year after the first free year. Buyers were still not amused. The Monroney side-window sticker (photo above for a 2019 BMW X2) says “Included” but that only means CarPlay compatibility has been integrated into the car.
Apple says it doesn’t charge automakers a rights or licensing fee to use CarPlay, although BMW does go to the cost of integrating CarPlay, just as it goes to the cost of integrating an AM/FM radio, HD Radio, satellite radio, a CD player (some cars, come markets), and USB jacks. It is, you might say, the cost of doing business.
The freedom-from-fees decision applies to the current version of the Connected Drive infotainment system, according to 9to5Mac. For earlier versions, there may be a one-time fee to get free of fees.
Here’s why BMW did what it did in 2016, then undid what it did, in our opinion:
Major automakers, BMW and Toyota / Lexus in particular, were annoyed that a tech company founded in the 1970s by dope-smoking Californians had become so powerful and so popular – popular maybe because their hardware and software was easy to use? – that customers were just as happy to have an Apple interface in the center stack.
Toyota responded by holding off from supporting CarPlay, developing instead a Toyota-proprietary alternative called Entune. It is finally including CarPlay, on some cars in 2019, on others in 2020.
BMW responded with the fee for Apple CarPlay. It omitted Android Auto entirely from its cars. In 2017, BMW’s senior vice president of Digital Services and Business Models, Dieter May, told TechCrunch, “If you have six screens in the car, you also get gesture control, voice control with a personal assistant, etc. You need to have control over that user experience — maybe you can get away with it if you’re a ‘mass producer,’ but not in the premium segment.” Developers have said, more often privately, that Android Auto had less-robust development tools and more security issues than Apple. Also, there was some concern that Google wanted to collect user information. (Toyota has said much the same thing about concerns over Android dev tools and security.)
Apple CarPlay integration remains incomplete in all cars, not just BMW. The CarPlay display output goes only to the center stack, not to any multi-information display in the instrument panel, or to the head-up display. If the main display can be windowed when not using CarPlay, it can’t be two-thirds CarPlay and one-third automaker info. Sometimes CarPlay steps on the host-car infotainment system or vice versa. All this suggests there’s more work to do. And customers are telling automakers – if automakers run focus groups and listen – that if the automaker can’t get the two to work together, owners will be annoyed and it might cost them sales if another automaker does a better job.
It should be noted that Apple sought working relationships with BMW or Mercedes-Benz (Daimler) in building an Apple-designed autonomous car. This after Apple decided it didn’t have the skills to build cars itself. “[The] on-again, off-again talks with those companies have ended after each rebuffed Apple’s requirements to hand over control of the data and design, some of the people said,” according to The New York Times in 2018. Others said the egos involved, especially over who called the shots, made a partnership impossible.
That didn’t stop Apple reaching understandings with BMW and Mercedes to implement CarPlay. Meanwhile, automakers have been more open to working with Amazon and Google to implement Alexa and Hey Google voice input alongside the automakers’ own voice input.
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