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MF Review: MINI Connected

It all started with that simple iPod connector that debuted in 2003 in BMWs and MINIs. The idea of connecting technology from outside the car and allowing it to power the infotainment center in the dash. Fast forward seven years and MINI has finally taken a giant leap with MINI Connected.

In fact leap isn’t even the right word. In reality Connected is a watershed moment in automotive technology for the simple fact that it takes software development out of seven year automotive cycles. And equally important it introduces app like mentality that allows for software development to focus on new features that are built on robust platform. That means MINI can tailor the Connected app and your car’s future functionality for whatever comes next in the world of technology. What’s going to be hot in 2013? We have no idea. But in 2013 MINI can update MINI Connected and have it there ready for you.

Or you can also think of it this way; Connected allows MINI related functionality to be driven by your iPhone and then displayed on MINI’s new gorgeous hi-res display all while being controlled by the center joystick. It takes the phone out of your hand and makes the car the interface for your life.

At the recent press launch of the 2011 MINI range, we had a chance to walk-through MINI Connected with BMW Senior Engineer Robert Passaro (one of the lead engineers of MINI Connected). Robert not only talked us through each feature but gave us some background on the technology and why it was built. The idea (as mentioned above) is all about decoupling the car from the technology.

But we’ll let Robert walk you through the system. Here’s a quick video of Robert and myself going through Connected. (video after the break)

It was interesting to hear from him first hand about the MINI Connected delay for the US market. The official reason is that MINI was waiting to finalize the additional features (listed below) before they brought the option to their largest market. MINI didn’t think Connected was as compelling as it needed to be with just we radio, RSS and Twitter.

For the record here’s the current list of features on the European app (which will be updated when the US version comes out):

  • Web radio
  • RSS news reader
  • Twitter client (with auto populated tweets optional that know location, temp and time)

And now here’s the full list of features that the US app will have (combined with the list above):

  • Google local search
  • Google send to car
  • Dynamic music (creates music based on your driving and what your doing (ie turn signal, acceleration, cornering)
  • “Minimizer” (tells you how to optimize the way you drive for better efficiency)
  • (original feature) Web radio
  • (original feature) RSS news reader
  • (original feature) Twitter client (with auto populated tweets optional that know location, temp and time)

Now that we’ve talked about the technology and what we’ll have when the US version of the app and option is released, let’s talk about how well MINI Connected actually works.

Of the three the RSS reader is the one that most cries out for either a larger screen or a different system interface. Because of the space used for the MINI infotainment interface navigating through the text (or even choosing the car to read the text) can be a little cumbersome.

Twitter on the other hand is extraordinarily simple. It allows your to choose between posting your own update or choosing from three canned tweets that contain GPS, speed or temperature data to creating something vaguely compelling (ie I’m motoring on I94 and it’s 54 degrees).

By far the most interesting of the featuring in 1.0 is the web radio. The system (much like iTunes radio option) allows you to choose one of thousands of web radio stations all over the world. Even MINI has a handful of stations from Europe that stream music wirelessly. It’s incredibly compelling and would kill the need for Sirius in my next car.

All the functionality of course relies on your iPhone’s connection to broadband data. But what does this mean for owners without unlimited data plans? We spoke to MINI about this and based on some quick calculations they’ve done, even if you used MINI Connected to stream video five days a week for two hours a day (a pretty long commute) you’d only reach around 1GB. AT&T for example has two plans; one with 250MB and another with 2GB. Clearly the 2GB will be a good idea with MINI Connected. Of course that doesn’t count many iPhone owners who are still grandfathered in with old unlimited plans.

The app currently supports five languages and will be expanding in 2011. And speaking of expanding MINI didn’t give anything away in regards to what platform is next. However if we had to guess (from reading body language) it would likely have to be some form of Android. Of course what form and what flavor of Android it’ll be compatible with is anyone’s guess. After that we’d guess a stripped down version would be available for Blackberry.

But there was one more technology we got to play with at the 2011 MINI press launch; iPod out. Ever since that first iPod/car connection in 2003 automakers have been struggling to create a way to control iPods and now iPhones. To answer this MINI and Apple have worked together to create a standard called iPod out. The technology enables the MINI Connected system to display the familiar iPod navigation menu in the vehicle’s main center speedo display, and control the music playback features in the iPhone, the iPod touch and the latest generation iPod nano, using the vehicle’s controls.

The interface is designed by Apple and because it’s symbiotic, it’s very fast. Better yet, features can be added by Apple courtesy of updates to the iOS. It’s the ultimate way to get your iPhone or iPod playing through your MINI.

MINI Connected is a technology that is good and about to get much better. It’s an automaker ceding control to allow for better technology, more integration and future proofing of the cars we buy. For MINI it’s an easy way to always make sure the customer has the entertainment and functionality they want. For us it’s an easy way to always have the latest technology in our cars. It’s a classic win win and we can’t wait to see it hit the US market-place.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Jas

    No info on Mission Control? Is this feature not coming? Or do you have info from Robert on that?

  • MatthewW

    Nice review, and love how you integrated the video demo. Stuff like this is worth waiting for. As you mentioned, this is a giant leap forward, and will remove nearly all the headache related to keeping MINI Connected up to date with the latest software.

    (Aside: Speaking of iOS, when 4.0 shipped, I was able to stream Pandora without the iPod kicking in (H/K w/iPod Interface). Since the subsequent iOS updates, the iPod now kicks in again, preventing any other app from playing in the foreground. It was really nice while it lasted!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=157700491 Ronald Campbell

    By the time you add MINI Connected, Bluetooth, and the armrest, you are really close to the cost of a nice 27″ iMac. I would save my money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1134606899 Dean Cory

    I think that MINI Connected is a bad idea. Nothing on a iPod could sound better than a 1.6 liter engine running through its range of revs. Especially when accompanied by a belt driven Super Charger. OK a exhaust driven turbo comes close.

    Do we need all these electronic gizmo gadgets to cloud up the pure motororing bliss that is MINI? The BMW Overlords think so. They also are the reasons why DB has never seen a manual R55, R56, R57 in the wild.

    Not trying to be a nay sayer. But not on my next MINI. Even if it has Android compatability!

  • StephenS.

    So what’s the point? Is it for the passenger to play with while driving on a long trip? I certainly would not be looking at it in heavy commute traffic, if using it at all! If I need a computer in a trip to figure out weather, traffic,”Facebook” (what a laugh), I will take a laptop.

    Just a big waste of $$$$ and something else to go wrong. An AM radio will get local traffic warnings as will FM, so I will save my money for suspension, tires, brakes, etc.

  • bee1000

    This isn’t something I have much use for, but I like the idea of upgradeable technology in a car’s dashboard. Upgrading will have its limits, just like my first generation iPod Touch that can’t run the latest iOS, but this is better than anything on any other car.

    But, big question: Will the platform be open to 3rd party apps or will we be relying on Mini to keep development moving? I have no use for Internet radio or Twitter, but it would be cool to have a ScanGuage app (looks like something similar might be built-in, based on the screen shot), one of the many g-meter apps or any number of potential driving-related apps people might develop.

    Also, what about pushing a smartphone’s free navigation to the Mini’s screen? Will Mini dare cannibalize the sat nav profit machine?

    Finally, Android compatibility can’t come fast enough. I appreciate Apple’s involvement in getting this off the ground, but I certainly wouldn’t buy into any system that is reliant on devices available from only one company.

  • alpinamike

    It was very i-drive like when I messed with it a couple months ago, of course my iphone did not have the app, but I could still view most of the applications visible and selections.

    Modifying the background and colors would be nice to personalize, maybe a splash screen of your own MINI. (color spectrum)

    Of course when this comes out and people play with the system will we see things to one up the current system.

    Its the joystick that is a little getting used to if you are not idrive savvy.

  • http://dbmini.us DB

    So, much like AppleTV brings iTunes to your home entertainment center, this, essentially, brings iTunes to your car with a few other features?

    Too bad other platforms aren’t being supported at launch. I’m guessing it only supports IOS4 as well, which even limits iPhone compatibility to 3g(s) and 4g models. It also appears that a data connection is required to take advantage of most of these features, which also eliminates using a current iPod touch.

    That means that if you want to take advantage of MINI Connected and don’t have a current iPhone, you will need to get one. And that will add an additional $200 to the price of this option.

    So for me, this is going to be a pretty spendy way to bring iTunes and Twitter to a MINI. When AppleTV is only $99 and a Mac Mini is only $700, that is a huge jump to bring that functionality to a car.

    Not sure I could justify the expense and will keep my fingers crossed for support on other devices coming sooner than later.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    So, much like AppleTV brings iTunes to your home entertainment center, this, essentially, brings iTunes to your car with a few other features?

    Not really. This is a platform (in the guise of an app) that allows for allows for app like functionality (ie twitter, Facebook etc).

    I’m guessing it only supports IOS4 as well, which even limits iPhone compatibility to 3g(s) and 4g models.

    Yes the original Edge iPhone won’t work because it needs iOS4. However you wouldn’t want to stream this data via Edge anyway.

    It also appears that a data connection is required to take advantage of most of these features, which also eliminates using a current iPod touch.

    You could use an iPod Touch if you had some type of Wifi device.

    So for me, this is going to be a pretty spendy way to bring iTunes and Twitter to a MINI. When AppleTV is only $99 and a Mac Mini is only $700, that is a huge jump to bring that functionality to a car.

    Again it’s not just twitter but an entire ecosystem of functionality that you’re buying into. You’re also opening the door for tons of future features.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gbmini Ian Cull

    I want, like the Ford Sync, to be able to say “play Eric Clapton” and it happens …

  • http://www.pluckyoutoo.com Tommy Salami

    When it’s available for Android I’d get it and skip satellite radio. I see Google Local Search, but I guess you can’t use Google Maps, as they would negate the need for the overpriced Navigation?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    I see Google Local Search, but I guess you can’t use Google Maps, as they would negate the need for the overpriced Navigation

    Google Local Search is integrated into the Navigation system.

  • Evan

    Just to understand fully, you can’t run the iPhone map application on MINI Connected and the Google Local Search functionality requires the nav option?

    If I could just run my iPhone and it’s features by plugging it in, that’d be great. But without the map app working, it doesn’t seem like an advantage to have MINI Connected without the Nav system, especially if you live and drive to places where 3G coverage becomes spotty. Thus making streaming internet music inconsistent. Does that seem fair?

  • Jas

    Gabe, Is Mission Control coming in a future update, an insight from Robert?

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Just to understand fully, you can’t run the iPhone map application on MINI Connected

    That’s correct.

    and the Google Local Search functionality requires the nav option?

    It doesn’t require Nav.

  • http://mynextmini.info Chris

    Love it. I’ll be ordering it next month for a December build JCW.

  • rkw

    Web radio is something I would like, but I’m not convinced that live RSS/Facebook/Twitter is appropriate in a car.

    Gabe, have you had any chance to see the new Nav system? There has been very little information about it. Does it have any integration with MINI Connected, such as location based services? The funny thing is, since MINI Connected requires a smartphone you end up with two Nav devices.

  • Midnight Blue

    I have an R60 MCS All4 with MINI Connected with Naviagtion on order and am also interested in reading more about the new nav system. I do not have an iPhone; rather I use a BB Storm2 so all of these other features will be useless to me at this time.

    Also, will an iPad work as the source device? I do have one of those but do not plan on schlepping it with me every time I’m in the car.

    Lastly, what functionality will my trusty Apple 80GB iPod provide? I’m hoping that the good old fashioned iPod control will still work on this 3 1/2 year old device.

  • Pingback: MINI Connected | dbmini.us()

  • Jon

    Too much technology for my taste. Just another way that the driver can get distracted from what they’re actually in their MINI to do: DRIVING.

    Why do people need to know that I’m in my MINI (regarding using Twitter while driving)? Talk about pointless, and again, dangerously distracting. Accident rates will surely rise.

    No thanks.

  • Boro Boy

    I think Jon has it in a nutshell. Impressive technology, but not for a car. Even a MINI.

  • GaryD

    Gabe, how much of this actually works while driving? i.e. in anything other than Park?

    This is a real concern as it sounds to me like a lot of opportunity for distracted driving and an increase in accidents. I’m sure if the insurance companies see a trend of increases in MINIs in accidents all our rates will go up.

    And if states have differing laws (like Illinois, for example) on texting while driving will they be able to lock out certain functions (twittering?) or prevent it from being used unless parked?

    The example above of streaming 2 hours of video 5 days a week… video for who? the driver?!?! Shouldn’t they be paying attention to the road? This sounds almost like MINI is promoting this activity. If so, I’m sure they’ll be included in future lawsuits when video watching/RSS reading/Twitter posting MINI drivers hit other motorists.

    Sorry to be a downer on this, but I see most of this as a nice system that does NOT belong in a vehicle.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    This is a real concern as it sounds to me like a lot of opportunity for distracted driving and an increase in accidents. I’m sure if the insurance companies see a trend of increases in MINIs in accidents all our rates will go up.

    People do this now but instead of using an automotive grade interface they use a small touch screen phone. This brings limited functionality that is designed to be used via voice or just a few clicks in a safe environment. As a driver if you can’t determine when it’s safe or unsafe to use something like this, MINI Connected is the least of your problems.

    The example above of streaming 2 hours of video 5 days a week… video for who? the driver?!?! Shouldn’t they be paying attention to the road? This sounds almost like MINI is promoting this activity. If so, I’m sure they’ll be included in future lawsuits when video watching/RSS reading/Twitter posting MINI drivers hit other motorists.

    No one is talking about streaming video. This is audio we’re talking about. And when video becomes a reality that will only be available when the parking brake is engaged or the vehicle is in park.

  • DougK

    I’m an Android user and I’ll wait (somewhat) patiently for the Android version rather than move to an iPhone.

    All in all Connected looks very promising!

  • LeeL

    So, has this been 100% cleared with AT&T? MINI is sure they are not going to start requiring tethering plans?

    Looks pretty cool.

  • Chris

    Gabe, obviously people can’t determine when it is safe or unsafe to use something like this, since they can’t even determine when it is safe to text and use their cellphones. That said i want this only because i want the built in nav. and always liked the look of the dash with the nav and speedo going around the screen.

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com Nathaniel Salzman

    To echo some of what Gabe says in the review, what’s brilliant here is that MINI has removed all of this interactive functionality from the car itself. If you’re not interested in Twitter integration, then don’t use it, but just the fact that whatever the next “Twitter” ends up being, MINI will be able to integrate that in weeks rather than years. Location-based services and social networks are only just beginning to mature, so there’s going to be a lot of change in the next few years as people come up with creative, fun and useful things to do with that information. Making that available inside your car opens up lots of fun opportunities. Then making that so extensible and easily updatable is just such a smart move on MINI’s part. Say what you like about the current crop of functionality, but I think this is going to be a must-have feature in any new MINI that makes its way into my garage.

  • PFM

    Is it possible to have an ipod connected for music (say in the glove box or secret compartment) and a smart phone (iphone now, android/blackberry soon) for voice and connected? – I’d like one ipod to be permanently connected for music library and another for voice/connected.

    How long and how often does it take to ingest the music library from a connected device?

    Is there any control of A2DP connceted devices? I understand that there is no album art. What about transport control and maybe music navigation. The Ford Sync supports this surprisingly well.

    Also, is or will Pandora be available? I recall this being mentioned early on, but not recently or here.

  • bee1000

    Serious Question: Since Mini Connected is reliant upon a smartphone for location information and data streaming, couldn’t everything it does be done more simply by mounting your smartphone on the dash?

    Based on what I’m seeing, a simple iPhone/Android app that allows my Mini to send data like levels, temps, error codes, etc. would be much simpler and more useful. That would add something new a smartphone rather than trying to get a smartphone to add technology to the car.

    What are the advantages of sending the data through Mini Connected instead? I suppose you get a streamlined interface that could work better while driving (although even that is frightening).

  • Versus

    @bee100, with a lot, if not most, of the smart phone market being touch screen I don’t see how a system like the one you propose would function safely. Not knocking the suggestion because beign able to see temp levels and the like would be great.

    Here are some of my concerns with this type of functionality being solely on a phone. With multitasking on phones you wouldn’t have to worry about restarting the app every time you received a call, but what about battery life? What if you wanted to use your phone for directions? What about connecting your music library on your phone?

    I see MINI Connected as a way to bring all these things together, potentially. It’d be a Swiss Army knife of functionality.

    Lastly, to the people going ballistic over Twitter or Facebook integration. Anyone who attempts to tweet manually by driving is insane. However, we don’t know that the tweeting feature will be anything more demanding than selecting an option in mini connected called “tweet my location” in the main screen that would take two twist of a knob to perform.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Serious Question: Since Mini Connected is reliant upon a smartphone for location information and data streaming, couldn’t everything it does be done more simply by mounting your smartphone on the dash?

    Well it can be mounted anywhere as long as the cord reaches. MINI will sell you a mounting kit that is integrated into the armrest – a much bette placement.

    Based on what I’m seeing, a simple iPhone/Android app that allows my Mini to send data like levels, temps, error codes, etc. would be much simpler and more useful.

    That would require that data to be sent from the car using Bluetooth – something that wasn’t designed into the current system.

    What are the advantages of sending the data through Mini Connected instead? I suppose you get a streamlined interface that could work better while driving (although even that is frightening).

    Yup. Automotive grade is the technical term.

    Is there any control of A2DP connceted devices? I understand that there is no album art. What about transport control and maybe music navigation. The Ford Sync supports this surprisingly well.

    To start with Ford Sync is a pretty archaic system in almost every way except for voice control of artists. Ok with that out of the way… the MINI system supports A2DP without album art. If you plug it in album art is supported.

    Also, is or will Pandora be available? I recall this being mentioned early on, but not recently or here.

    This is the beauty of having the features on the device side. It’s believed that iOS4.2 will feature the ability to send any audio out and thus playing your Pandora will be possible through the MINI. Of course you could go the old fashioned route and just plug your iPhone into the AUX.

    Lastly, to the people going ballistic over Twitter or Facebook integration. Anyone who attempts to tweet manually by driving is insane. However, we don’t know that the tweeting feature will be anything more demanding than selecting an option in mini connected called “tweet my location” in the main screen that would take two twist of a knob to perform.

    Yes that’s it (as demonstrated in the video).

  • Jack Grouell

    I hope some functionality is available to the passenger when the car is in motion – it will give her something to do beside critiquing my driving… <|:O)

  • Quinn

    Gabe: you reported on mission control as part of mini connected, is this a feature for future updates? Jas above asked, I’m wondering also. Any info on it from your time with Robert?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000326387071 Anthony Buglio

    To me the only reason to buy “Connected” is so I can have a nice big screen to see all my iPod music screens. I find navigating my ipod on the current radio with only the two red lines, which are hard to see with polarized sunglasses, very difficult. All that other computer stuff is way over the top for use in a car.

  • Ali

    Gabe, thanks for the review, a question comes to mind regarding the audio quality of the web radio, can you choose what bitrate you want to stream? I would imagine users with unlimited plans preferring higher bitrate over data conserving, this is after all one of the advantages of internet radio over AM/FM broadcasting; high quality.

  • Kev50027

    I see where BMW and MINI are going with this, but aren’t they just sidestepping the problem? The main issue is that updating technology built into a car is costly and requires getting a new car. Now, they offload the update issue to a phone. Well, people change their phones roughly once every 9 months, and the vast majority of people don’t have a smartphone at all. On top of that, you’re still relying on MINI to update their app for this to work, and it’s been shown that car companies want to sell you a car, then get you to buy a new one, so they have little incentive to get all the new features to the people who have a 2 or 3 year old car.

    I just ordered a 2011 MCS, and decided to not even bother waiting for Connected. It looks nifty, but I think that’s all it is, something fun to play with. Why bother playing with your phone and tech when you have a freakin’ go-kart at your fingertips? –this from a tech addict.

  • JonPD

    I come from a odd perspective, while I appreciate what they have created I think in a great many ways this is just another layer or technology to distract the driver. In my small world view generally speaking radios and cup holders are directly responsible for more than a few accidents as people try to multitask. Of course both have a place in vehicles but generally speaking anything other than driving usually overwhelms the meek driving skills by a huge amount of the badly distracted drivers on the road.

    On the technical side its a little feature poor design currently but I could see some better content be added in the future. I really don’t want to even drive around another MINI driver that is busy trying to navigate the system to post a automated tweet.

  • http://www.motoringfile.com/ Gabe

    Gabe, thanks for the review, a question comes to mind regarding the audio quality of the web radio, can you choose what bitrate you want to stream?

    That choice is up to the people streaming each station. They can range from a paltry 24kbps to near CD-like 128kbps.

    Well, people change their phones roughly once every 9 months

    Statistically that’s not true of iPhones and smartphones in general. It’s closer to two years.

    and the vast majority of people don’t have a smartphone at all.

    But they will. Remember this is the introduction of technology that will power MINIs for many years to come.

    On top of that, you’re still relying on MINI to update their app for this to work, and it’s been shown that car companies want to sell you a car, then get you to buy a new one, so they have little incentive to get all the new features to the people who have a 2 or 3 year old car.

    But if it’s the same system power new cars they have plenty of incentive to update it. Again that’s the great thing about this system for someone who wants the latest technology but wants to hold onto their car for 5+ years.

  • GaryD

    @Versus – and others.

    I agree, that it is insane to being twittering and such while driving. Also that people SHOULD be smart enough to know not to… but the simple fact is that they are not.

    Case in point, my wife has been hit 3 different times by people on their cell phone. The last one even admitted she was “checking her messages”… while on the expressway in 0-40mph stop and go traffic.

    While I don’t mean to come across harsh on this, anything which is being sold where the majority of the function seems to be to take your eyes off the road is, in my opinion, bad.

  • StephenS

    +1 for GaryD and the others that think that driving is the main object of being in a motor vehicle!

    Think about this. With Mini Connected it might be possible in the future for Mini to “Upgrade” your software so a hands free phone would not work, or maybe not be able to change the music.

  • Quinn

    I love it. Excitted for future update to mission control. And should be nice to have a feature that will last the life of the car. Quite new for auto industry. Will order in next 2 weeks for dec build on a convertible. :)

  • Jack Grouell

    So maybe our situation is unique – wife and I are both retired and love to travel in our MINIs – and the passenger has actually taken over as the “Electronic Systems Operator” managing cell phone communication, Garmin NUVI operation, various heating and ventilation controls, radio and entertainment controls and settings, and providing situational awareness updates. The driver drives. Not only does this provide a safer ride, it makes the trip a lot more enjoyable. Mini Connected is a more modern high tech integrated approach to enhancing this experience. Don’t assume that just because a driver could be distracted, all drivers will be distracted.

  • Ali

    Gabe, thanks for the response, here’s hoping a 192kbps streaming option would be available, should go well with H&K speakers.

  • StephenS

    Jack Grouell:

    Lucky man to have such a competent co-pilot. No screaming children, nobody trying to figure out a map or what button to push, literally and figuratively.

    The Mini is slowly becoming a vehicle which 2 person’s are required to operate, much like an airplane.

  • Pete

    I wonder why they didn’t use a touch screen? Connected (and NAV) seem just beg for it.


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