MINI Connected

A few weeks ago we broke the bad news that MINI’s most highly anticipated option for 2011, MINI Connected, will be delayed in the North American market. Our sources have told us that the reason rests with the iPhone app and making sure it’s perfect for the recently updated iOS4 (the UK/Euro version was released a few weeks ago with a slightly different set of features). But the big question has been time-frame – when can we actually expect it? We now have some answers.

Our sources are telling us to expect MINI Connected to be available for September orders and November builds. That means we should start to see cars with the option showing up at dealers around the November or December time-frame (depending on how long it takes to ship a MINI from Oxford to where you are).

From my brief time playing with MINI Connected I can tell you this will be incredible. And as more features are added the iPhone app will simply be updated within iTunes. It’s a smart delivery method and one that takes advantage of much quicker development cycles than what we normally see in automotive electronics.

A Closer Look at MINI Connected

The option adds a new 6.5” hi-resolution screen (the same as on the 2011 Nav system), Comfort Bluetooth (6NE) with Smartphone prep (6NF), a Combox control box (interface the iPhone with the car), Voice recognition (620), and a joystick controller to access all features just as the MINI Navigation uses. Currently, only the iPhone is supported, but the Android and Blackberry Smartphones are being planned as well for a later launch.

Despite what some reports have indicated you don’t need tethering. Instead all music plays directly on your iPhone and and is then sent to your MINI via tue cable or Bluetooth.

MINI USA is pricing Connect rather aggressively at $1,000. Not bad considering that you get Comfort Bluetooth with armrest and Smartphone prep (a $750 + $100 value) in the package. That means you are getting all MINI Connected features, the hi-res screen with joystick controller and full iPhone connectivity for only $150 more.

Now let’s take a close look at what MINI Connect really is. First off the system has the ability to control the music in your iPhone or iPods music library and play it through the audio system. Accessing all your music on the screen is so much easier now because you’ll be able to search by artist, genre and so forth.

Also, you can disconnect your iPhone or iPod from the cable and still listen to your music via Bluetooth wirelessly. This means you can literally walk away from the car and control your music with your iPhone from 20 feet away. And with the new system, the only cable you need is the standard iPhone cable that came from Apple.

Diving deeper into MINI Connected’s online functions, let’s take a look at what can come through to your car. A audio feature called Webradio allows you to search for radio stations around the world by country, genre and so forth. From there just select the station and it’s streamed into the car.

You can also access RSS feeds (like MotoringFile’s for instance) with MINI Connect. Simply select playback and voice recognition will read out the text to you and continue on beyond what you see, playing back the entire article. While stopped, you can also read the whole news article.

The much maligned Mission Control is also a part of MINI Connected and features over 3,500 sayings. You can pick and choose what you want to hear and adjust the “enthusiasm level” by selecting your driving theme. In addition, the upgraded system will have a “MINIMALISM” Analyzer that gives you real-time hints for optimum fuel efficiency. Perhaps the most important feature of Mission Control? You can turn it off.

Another new feature is Dynamic Music. It allows you to choose from several beats and based on your driving conditions, can increase or decrease the intensity and rhythm, allowing you to literally create your own track while driving.

Also incorporated is Google Local Search. Here, you can search for common items such as restaurants, fuel stations and even post offices by location, type and even business name. When a result is found you can select it and if they have a phone number and address listed online, Google will display it right in your car.

And if you are a Facebook and Twitter fan, you can read recent posts just like the news feeds where limited text is shown while driving, but can be played back to you thanks to text-to-voice technology. If you are stopped, then you can read more. If you need to respond, MINI Connected can help you post with pre-populated responses based on information that it knows. For instance, you can simply choose from several sentences that will include things like temperature and vehicle speed. And if you have NAV, MINI Connected can even include your destination and current location. You could post something like this with just one twist and one click- “Hey guys, it’s 3:00 PM and I’m in my MINI driving Southbound to Main Street on this warm 74 degree day.”

One of the best parts of MINI’s options pricing is that, for only $750 more you can get the full navigation system with real time traffic info. And remember this is a ground up redesign of the system with internal solid state memory and not DVDs. Maps can be updated through a USB port in the glovebox. As a stand along option MINI’s new Navigation system will list for $1,750 – cheaper than last year while including all the features of MINI Connected.