BMW/MINI Opening International App Centers, Starting in Shanghai

[Official Release] With the introduction of MINI Connected in 2010, the BMW Group became the world’s first carmaker to allow the application-based and extensive integration of the Apple iPhone into its models. Available as an option, MINI Connected links up with a simple USB connection and the MINI Connected App to turn the smartphone into a central interface for infotainment inside, and relating to every aspect of, the car. This technology has provided the launch pad for an all-new in-car infotainment experience. In spring 2011 this interface and app were also made available for BMW vehicles in the form of BMW Apps and BMW Connected. Added to which, the BMW Group has since expanded the app concept to include the internet-based services from BMW Online (available since 2001) and, this summer, also BMW Live. Other compatible apps – and therefore services – from third-party providers can also be integrated into the concept and used in BMW and MINI vehicles.

Scope for rapid and flexible expansion.
With the app concept – using either the application-based integration of a smartphone or a browser inside the vehicle – the BMW Group developers have created a highly flexible and still unrivalled platform. Indeed, the functional scope of the vehicle can be significantly broadened with the help of vehicle-specific apps certified by the BMW Group, enabling functions such as web radio, GoogleTM Local Search and FacebookTM to be used inside the vehicle safely and in convenience. But that is only the start. The app concept allows the range of functions to be expanded almost infinitely. Updating the app or installing another compatible app brings new functions into the car – without the need for any modifications to the car itself.

“For us, the whole issue of apps is about not only the individual functions inside the vehicle, such as web radio or Google, but also the avenues this opens up to us beyond them. This technology makes our vehicles fit for the future.” (Florian Reuter, Product Management MINI Connected)

Market-led solutions – worldwide. The BMW AppCenters.
In addition to speed, flexibility and personalisation options, the app concept also opens up significant potential for solutions tailored to specific markets. And that prompted the BMW Group to add a third AppCenter, in a joint project with the BMW Group ConnectedDrive Lab China in Shanghai, to complement the first AppCenter in Munich’s Research and Innovation Centre and its American counterpart at the BMW Group Technology Office USA in Mountain View, California.

“Where ConnectedDrive is concerned, we want to maintain our edge in future as well. That is why, alongside the existing AppCenters in the Research and Innovation Centre in Munich and at the BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, we have established a new BMW Group ConnectedDrive Lab in Shanghai. Together with my colleagues from the development department, I was able to visit the lab this summer. Even before completion of the new premises, our colleagues over there are already working on developing the first apps specifically aimed at the Asian marketplace.” (Dr. Klaus Draeger, Member of the BMW AG Board of Management, Development)

Extending its development capacity in this way underlines the great importance which the BMW Group attributes to the subject of applications. The three AppCenters in Munich, Mountain View (California) and Shanghai form a network that is working on the research and development of forward-looking apps for smartphones and browser-based technologies. With its three locations, the BMW Group is in a position to optimally meet differing customer requirements and the desire for a geographically relevant range of apps.

“The regional proximity of the AppCenter in Mountain View to Silicon Valley allows us in-depth insights into and exciting collaborations with highly innovative and creative start-ups.” (Dirk Rossberg, Head of BMW Group Technology Office USA) The AppCenter in Shanghai factors the needs of the Asian market into its development work, which means that, in conjunction with its Munich location, the BMW Group can drive developments forward with its fingers firmly on the pulse of the time. All three AppCenters work as part of a network using identical platforms, technologies and software components. Short development times of between two and 12 months allow the swift implementation of premium-quality market-led and brand-specific solutions. The focus of the developers is primarily on apps in the areas of community, car-related functions, infotainment and location-based services. Depending on the brand and the targets, the focus can shift and be expanded to meet specific requirements – for, as the BMW Group experts predict, this is going to be a hot topic of the future.

BMW Group ConnectedDrive Lab China.
In addition to the market-led offerings for BMW Apps and MINI Connected, further software topics fall within the lab’s remit as well. Asia-specific features for the display and operating concept and for driver assistance systems (e.g. traffic sign recognition) can be optimally developed on location thanks to an intercultural, predominantly Chinese team. Moreover, it allows activities such as the development of an open source infotainment platform as part of GENIVI to be directly linked to the Asian markets. Needless to say, the developers are working in close consultation with the heart of BMW Group development at Munich’s Research and Innovation Centre.

“It is really exciting to be leading a young, interdisciplinary team here in China as part of a global development network. As a megacity, Shanghai is a globally significant location for innovations and trends. It’s a place where groundbreaking impulses are generated for design, mobility and the key technologies of the future. After just a few months we are delighted that, with our team of 20 highly qualified and motivated developers, display and operating concept designers and software experts, we are already able to present the first tangible results for series development.” (Alexis Trolin, Head of BMW Group ConnectedDrive Lab China)

Third-party apps from external providers.
In addition to the special functions it has created itself, the BMW Group is also using the technical capability provided by MINI Connected and BMW Apps as a platform for the integration of services from other providers. These “third-party apps” will allow a host of infotainment functions which customers already use at home to be transferred seamlessly to the car and operated by the driver. And that means they will have access to the services they want – such as personalised music streaming – at all times, whether they are on foot or travelling in the car.

“With third-party apps we’re aiming to give customers the chance to select the provider they prefer, or at least one they are familiar with, for each specific application. In addition, when it comes to new functions through other apps we can, of course, also recommend a provider offering the service they are seeking.” (Andreas Schwarzmeier, BMW ConnectedDrive) By opening up this platform to apps from other providers, the BMW Group is underlining its leading position in both the integration of mobile devices into its cars and the introduction of internet-based in-car services. Development times are getting even shorter, and the selection of products wider and more customer-specific. And, most importantly, local requirements can be covered to optimum effect by a diverse structure underpinning the available services. In the USA, BMW Apps and MINI Connected customers can already use the popular and cost-free personalized internet radio service Pandora®. “Our aim for the future is to take our cooperation with premium infotainment providers to the next level in order to give our customers in-car access to the services they already use at home.” (Andreas Schwarzmeier)

Only apps which meet the requirements of the BMW Group for in-car use are certified and approved by the BMW Group for MINI Connected or BMW Apps. Development partners assist the BMW Group to this end with suitable guidelines, tools and car-related expertise.

Innovative functions, adapted to the brand.
The flexibility of the local interface is also evident in the brand-specific development of BMW Apps and MINI Connected. Both apps offer access to web radio and Facebook, for example, but MINI Connected also features driving and community-oriented functions such as the MINIMALISM Analyser and Mission Control. BMW Apps, meanwhile, serves the need for seamless functionality and ease of information access with functions such as the integration of the iPhone calendar.

“MINI drivers are different from BMW drivers. That’s why it’s important for us to be able to offer them a specially developed service – in the form of MINI Connected. This also applies to apps from third-party providers. Here we can work effectively with exciting external partners to give customers access to their services inside the MINI.” (Florian Reuter) The latest version of MINI Connected already offers up to ten different functions, but the developers at the BMW Group are also working on the integration of additional features. As well as the integration of streaming podcast services and virtual travel guides, foursquare® would enable the community area of MINI Connected to expand to include the link-up with location-based services and social networking. Customers can use foursquare to explore their surroundings or check out a nearby restaurant, for example, and to access any tips the community can offer. They can also see where their friends are hanging out.

“We have a local interface, which can be adapted along individual and customer-specific lines so that every customer – BMW or MINI – can access a set of functions which suit their personal requirements.” (Uwe Higgen, Head of the BMW Group AppCenter in Munich)

Personalising applications in BMW Online.
From this summer, BMW ConnectedDrive customers have been able to widen their app experience beyond iPhone-based BMW Apps to include browser-based applications from BMW Online. Added to which, they can use their internet-compatible smartphone to access the latest applications from BMW via BMW Live. For example, BMW offers all customer groups and markets a constantly updated and configurable range of functions. To enable this browser-based functionality, the car needs to be specified with BMW ConnectedDrive and have an Internet connection – either via the integrated SIM card or the customer’s mobile phone – to the backend servers on which the applications are running. The applications can then be selected from the menu of the on-board system via BMW Online or BMW Live and accessed immediately. In this way, the BMW ConnectedDrive package offers comfortable access to the desired applications, in the style you would expect from BMW.

“With BMW Online and BMW Live, MINI Connected and BMW Apps, we are offering a range of technically contrasting but complementary solutions which appeal to different customer groups. Keeping both smartphone and backend applications separate from overall car development will allow our models to stay at the leading edge of technology over a period of years.” (Uwe Higgen)

Leadership stretching back years.
The BMW Group already has something of a tradition when it comes to taking the lead as an innovator in the integration of CE devices. In 2004 the BMW Group became the world’s first carmaker to allow the Apple iPod to be integrated into the audio system of its models. Indeed, the BMW Group exclusively unveiled the first technology solution for the integration of the iPhone into the infotainment system of its cars just in time for the device’s launch in 2007. Also, since March 2011 the iPod Out function has allowed the familiar Apple iPod interface to be displayed in the car’s on-board monitor and operated via the iDrive Controller or multifunction steering wheel. Since the vehicle can thus access the iPod function of the iPhone directly, BMW also offers customers all the native add-ons for the iPod, such as the Genius function, which searches the user’s music library and automatically compiles playlists of tracks that go well together.

  • Anonymous

    I must admit that its getting more interesting, but I also wonder why does it even need the phone – it would not take much to have everything that is in the phone already in the car. A few hundred dollars, and the car is a smart phone, an iPad, or whatever. What does a phone even bring to this?

    • The phone brings everything. 

      The expense of the hardware isn’t the issue. Having actually worked in the industry I can tell you that product development, especially consumer electronics development, is not only time-consuming but extremely expensive. The final component cost for an iPhone may only be a few hundred dollars, but that’s after hundreds of millions of dollars in development on the part of both Apple and its suppliers. Then you’re looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing the firmware to talk to that hardware, even if you do have it. And yes, that’s even if you’re using “open” tools like Android. Then there’s getting FCC certifications, intellectual property hassle — a whole world of rigamarole. 

      Beyond expense, there’s time, and this is MINI’s driving factor. I’ve seen headphones take three years to get into pre-production. The latest electronics in most cars is 3-7 years old. Just twelve months is an eternity in internet time. The iPhone itself is only four years old. By the time MINI developed the tech themselves, it’d be all but antiquated.

      There’s a key principle here that MINI/BMW’s approach illustrates perfectly: stick to what you’re good at. Don’t reinvent wheels other people have all but perfected. Instead, find ways to leverage their strengths to your own advantage. MINI/BMW have done that perfectly in letting the iPhone do all of MINI Connected’s heavy lifting. This “future proofing” approach lets MINI push new features to the system in weeks, at minimal expense, rather than taking years and spending boatloads of money they’d never recoup in sales of the system. 

      And all of this doesn’t even begin to get into keeping up with the next generation of phone networks. Let Apple do all that work, and more importantly, let them finance it. 

      • Anonymous

        I don’t exactly disagree with you Nathan, but I’m not talking about them creating their own phone platform/app platform/app market. Even if Apple was tight about putting an iOS device embedded in a BMW/Mini I’m sure Google would be all over it. 

        But here is where I do disagree with you. If all your reasons are why BMW would not embed the phone in the car, then why is that exactly what they have done for years with Nav systems. Its the same platform issues, rapidly developing tech, and question of heavy lifting. Yet they’ve insisted on their own nav systems embedded in the car, freezing the tech that updates yearly to a model year that can’t be upgraded. 

        I’m just saying you can’t have the logic both ways here. One or the other was a stupid decision. Which was it? Embedding the Nav, or not embedding the phone?

        • Completely disagree for a handful of reasons.

        • b-

          Will people want a smartphone AND a smartphone built into their car that does less than the one in hand? No. People don’t want two phone bills, they have smartphones so they can dump a landline.

        • Anonymous

          I’m not thinking it has to literally be a phone – iPad if you will. Its a computing platform, it has a data connection. You could have a “phone app”, but using cellular data network, not a voice network. People pay for satellite radio – it could replace that. People pay for on-star, it could replace that. People pay for traffic data for their Nav, it could replace that. 

          That part of the idea is not the issue. Its letting a third party app platform backstage so to speak that is the issue.

        • b-

          MINI builds the cars let the app makers make the apps. BMW sees how big smartphones and apps are right now and the are using it to their advantage.

          It can be all that you say but people will bring the device and the apps that they choose. It is great that MINI is opening it up so many more developers can contribute more than MINI could ever think of.

          In my opinion the only negative thing someone could say is that it is bad because it is MINI and APPLE for now. Perhaps someday GOOGLE or Blackberry will step up to the plate and see the importance if this but maeby not.

        • Craig E

          Why would I want my iDevice permanently “embedded” in my vehicle?  If this sort of technology appeals to you, it is highly likely that you already have an iPhone or iPad.  Why would I want to buy that twice?  Since I bought my iPhone I haven’t used my iPod and I only use my desktop computer for heavy lifting.  I also would not want to have to pay for cellular/3G service for yet another device.  I also commonly plug my phone into the car to charge it.  So plugging it into the car to use with MINI connected isn’t exactly a hassle.  Also having the connected system use your separate device also allows upgrading the hardware.  For example, when Apple releases the iPhone 5 next year with 4G, the Connected system also benefits from that upgrade.  If the device is “embedded” that sort of upgrade is expensive at best, impossible at worst.

          Having the navigation functions resident in the car rather than the iDevice makes more sense.  Not everyone who wants in-dash NAV has a smartphone or tablet.  MINI has theoretically made it easier to update the NAV system through the use of a USB port for updates.  It is still a little early to tell how that will work though.  Also I would not want my navigation system dependent on the availability of wireless reception.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that you can say “the phone brings everything” when the system actually does a fair bit on its own. Now, obviously it does bring an internet connection without a phone, but there are things like audio function, car options, and so forth. And the Bluetooth connection will work with lots of phones that aren’t iPhones to make calls or to play your mp3s or even streaming audio apps in some cases. Or you can just plug a USB stick in to access a song library that way. Now, obviously it’s not the same as web radio or these other trifles like FB and twitter. But I was impressed by the amount of stuff you can actually do without an iphone. 

    • You’re not wrong. MINI Connected does a lot that doesn’t require an internet connection. I was responding specifically to lavadera’s assertion that the phone ought to be integrated into the car directly. That said though, new features are pushed to that system via the phone, which greatly simplifies the update and upgrade process. Just like the hardware, MINI/BMW are leveraging the update delivery ecosystem Apple has already built and perfected rather than building their own and relying on the dealer network to maintain it. This helps maximize the number of people out in the wild running the latest version of the system/app.

      • The phone only makes sense as the sole info-tainment vehicle if the car is very low-cost. Otherwise the car’s integrated on-board infotainment system can and should power automotive grade functionally

        • Or — and I think this is the case here — if the system is optional and only sold in modest numbers.

          I remember seeing on Top Gear some years back that Porsche had a slot for your SIM card that would turn the whole car into a mobile phone. However, that only covered telephone functionality.  

        • Anonymous

          Not spoken there is that the Phone shouldn’t, or won’t be allowed, to have “automotive grade functionally”.

          There is no reason that you could not “Siri – wipers on, high”, or “Siri – sport mode, on”, or “Siri, ECU mode, track day”, except that BMW won’t let apps have that access.

        • It’s not viable to allow a 3rd party to have any input into the core functionality of the car (such as wipers etc). Legally it would even be tricky. But believe me, there are concepts in Munich labs that have tested this and about every other variation. MINI Connected is just the tip of the iceberg. And rest assured that the interface and the display will change dramatically over the next ten years. Just don’t expect a touch screen (the automotive equivalent of a hard-key qwerty keyboard).

        • Yes, 3rd party access would be restricted of course. I was thinking of the core MINI Connected app though. 

        • Anonymous

          I imagine that they could always have firewalls between critical (read dangerous functions) and info-tainment. 

          I just think by letting a mature computing platform into the dash they open the door to much more functionality and customer value. Not to harp on Nav, but Nav could come with every car – except for the App. Now with independent Nav hardware when the car rolls off the assembly line they loose the ability to sell Nav to that customer. As part of an in-dash computing platform they can sell that Nav in a year, or 5 years, or to the next owner. They could charge $100, or the ridiculous sums they ask for now. They could get future sales on upgrades.

        • Wait for the next MINI. (hint – look at the new F20 1 Series)

        • Who’s to say they won’t though? Been sitting in on their planning meetings, have you? “Automotive grade” only applies to critical systems. You wouldn’t let the phone run the ignition system or anything that would leave you stranded or unsafe, but there’s no reason you couldn’t extend remote control to any number of secondary or tertiary functions. OnStar is a good example of this. You can use their iPhone app to remote start your car, unlock your doors, etc.

        • BMW has an app that does that now. It can find your car, send directions to the nav and lock/unlock doors and even cool and heat the car from anywhere in the world. Its not officially available in the US but works of you can get it via the UK iTunes store. I think it’s perfectly normal to have mobile control over your car remotely. However it’s essential for the automaker to maintain control over core functions while the car is in motion.

        • Indeed!

      • Anonymous

        Nathaniel – I’m not asserting that it ought to be integrated – I’m trying to highlight that their approach to the phone is contradictory to the approach to the Nav. In fact I put my own money on not-integrated for both.

        • It’s two very different technologies with very different customer expectations.

        • Anonymous

          Not really. No more than your iPad is a different technologies with very different customer expectations from your iPhone. Both run on essentially the same platform. Both will run the same apps.

        • That’s an easy thing to say, but it just isn’t the case. 

        • lavardera – I hope you’re coming to WRR live this weekend so we can discuss this properly over a beer 🙂

        • Anonymous

          I wish I was, but sadly I’m not. That would be a fun talk – but hey, we have a great thread happening here.

        • Indeed!

        • Anonymous

          It certainly is the case.

  • Awesome. Looking forward to seeing where this goes in the near future.

    Hopefully all the mobile platforms will be addressed, from iPhone and Android, Blackberry and beyond.

    • Dharvey1221

      Why does it have to be that complicated? Just do screen sharing or apples air play. Don’t include nav just core automotive functions ie stereo, diag, air.

      I download a nav app push it to the screen, phone does all the work. Google search email all can be done on the phone.

  • Volkan

    Has there been any other thread that Gabe AND Nathaniel posted this many -and lengthy- replies?

    It’s obvious that they are big fans of the MINI Connect and the “infotainment” that it provides 🙂

    • I’d say just fans of the product and big fans of the concept and the potential.

  • Melvin

    This is an old news, but wanted to check, if i have a Mini Cooper S 2007 model with Navigation System, can I convert to Mini Connected after market?