When we first saw spy photos of radical MINI’s circular OLED display we quietly wondered if the brand was moving away from CarPlay and Android Auto like General Motors has. Turns it it’s the exact opposite as both are not only supported but excellent in person. We went hands-on recently with a new Countryman to see just how far MINI is embracing both CarPlay and leveraging their new circular display. What we found was pretty surprising.
MINI is reinventing every aspect of the brand and it starts not just with what’s under the hood but what’s on the dash. The OLED circular display is intriguing as a shape but the moment it turns on it gets really interesting. While it may seem like unusual design given the rectangles we’re all used to, it feels very natural in person thanks to the way MINI has organized the information and the UI powering it.
Given the new circular OLED screen there’s been a lot of speculation on how CarPlay would work. Speculate no more because as you can see, it works very well. The CarPlay experience lives inside of the circular screen as a (roughly) 4×3 rectangle allowing for the critical drive and climate functionally to be present and functional. That means it has a slightly different layout from the CarPlay layout MINI has used in the past as it places the “dock” at the bottom. In our time with the sunset this make it feel all the more intuitive.
While CarPlay doesn’t work perfectly with circular display (the map still sits inside of the CarPlay or Android Auto app) its design makes the entire experience feel near seamless. Key to this is how the wallpaper you choose bleeds past the 4:3 square and fills the entire screen. This is especially seamless if you choose a black or white background as it visually eliminates the 4:3 border.
It’s not until you open up MINI’s own (exceptional) map software that you see the difference. With rich, 3D maps that go all the way to the edges, MINIs own mapping experience actually win us over quickly and felt superior to Google or Apple Maps in our brief use. However the real test will be how good its data and this search for POI is. Again in our brief time with it we came away impressed with its search functionality but we’ll withhold judgement until we live with it for a few days.
The Pairing Process
The initial pairing process is identical to what we’ve known in MINIs and BMWs for years but it’s faster from our initial testing. However the one new bit of functionality is how it exposes the progress of repairing. Once your phone is initially paired the concept is that CarPlay will subsequently initiative seamlessly (and wirelessly) when you start the car. However there can be a slight lag as the systems become aware of each other and do the typical digital handshake. In this new system MINI shows you that progress in a small pop-up that also makes it clear what type of connectivity you have chose. It’s also easy to then change that functionality on the fly. It’s a smart way to briefly expose the settings when you might need it while showing the progress of pairing itself.
The Speed of CarPlay
It’s fast. Really fast. In our initial testing the reaction to inputs was absolutely seamless. Perhaps even more so than the underlying MINI OS9 itself. While that may sound surprising remember that this was a pre-release version of MINI OS9 and speed improvements are likely on the production version already shipping with cars today.
The Technical Architecture Making it Possible
The real surprising aspect of the entire system is what it’s built on; Android. But it’s not the Android we know. It’s actually the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) software stack which does several things for MINI. For one it allows MINI to leverage the massive scale of the Android App store of which MINI will create their own subset. We show the MINI Connected store briefly in the video below. This will eventually be a MINI curated App Store leveraging Android apps that are made by MINI or by 3rd party developers.
But more importantly AOSP allows MINI to leverage the army of Android engineers worldwide meaning that the platform MINI will rely on for future innovation is both open source and vibrant in terms of developer knowledge and interest. But don’t mistake the software stack as influencing the user experience. As you can see in our full demo below that is 100% MINI’s own thinking and built on top of what this invisible but powerful technology.
This new system will come to all MINIs over the next few months starting with the U25 Countryman and J01 MINI Cooper EV. In March it’ll be a part of the petrol powered F66 MINI Cooper and ultimately the J05 MINI Aceman EVC crossover late next year.