Introducing BMW iDrive 8: All You Need to Know

Paul Smith
Mar 17, 2021

In March 2021, BMW introduced a new generation of BMW iDrive the company promises will bring driver-vehicle interaction into a smart, digital future. Which all sounds very exciting indeed, but what does it mean?

The primary focus of iDrive 8 is to make everything under your BMW iDrive system's control – from navigation and comfort features to vehicle settings and software configuration – perfectly match your needs. And because no man is an island, it also intelligently adapts to the situation.

Which BMWs have BMW Operating System 8?

The new iDrive will be rolled out gradually in all vehicle categories, but it will start in BMW's i electric vehicles – the upcoming iX, followed by the i4. We can then expect to see it featuring in all of BMW's latest cars.

BMW iDrive 8

How do you use BMW iDrive 8?

It all starts with the things you as a driver will see most – the display and the controls.

In keeping with the latest trends in in-car infotainment, BMW has revamped the look and feel of the iDrive system with a minimal, distraction-free design language for the new BMW 8 operating system. Perhaps most importantly, BMW has gone all in on voice, gesture and touch control, for ease of use behind the wheel.

You'll now have four main touchpoints with your car when driving:

  1. The iconic iDrive controller sitting in the center console.
  2. A curved iDrive display with touch support, for quickly interacting with on-screen elements.
  3. Gesture control, already found in many vehicles with the previous iDrive 7.0.
  4. The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, for voice control.

BMW claims its virtual assistant will be able to engage in natural interaction with the driver and front passenger – much like a relationship between humans. But if you prefer to stick with your favorite computerized humanoid, Amazon Alexa for BMW is available through the My BMW App.

Missing out on some of these futuristic features in your car? You don't need to wait for iDrive 8! You might still be able to activate gesture control for BMW in your car.

touch control in BMW iDrive 8

What is BMW's virtual assistant called?

One thing that separates BMW's Intelligent Personal Assistant from other virtual assistants is the fact that… well, just look at the name. It's not short and snappy, like "Alexa", "Siri", "Google" or *scratches head* "...Cortana?"

But BMW's spinning that into a strength of the new iDrive 8 infotainment system. Instead of relying on what somebody else thought would be a nice name for a cyborg, you can give the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant a name of your choice, which you can then use as a prompt when driving. Great if your children happen to be called "Alexa", "Amazon" and "Computer" (and whose aren't?).

What good is naming something if you can't build a relationship with it, though? Fortunately, the BMW virtual assistant is (and these are BMW's words, not ours) "trustworthy" and "appealing", and can even "express different emotions and states of mind non-verbally and in a human-like manner." Uhh… OK then.

Those non-verbal pointers boil down to glowing spheres of light of different brightnesses. It all looks great, but it might take a little while until you've figured out exactly what's on your car's mind.

It shouldn't need quite as long to get to grips with what you're thinking, though. BMW claims that even complaining about which parts of your body are hot and cold should be enough to prompt a quick change in the air conditioning settings. The future is well and truly here, friends.

Remote software update for BMW iDrive 8

To keep your new vehicular friend performing their best, with BMW iDrive 8, BMW offers over-the-air software updates, to bring the latest features to your car.

Like in 2018 and later vehicles with BMW iDrive 7, BMW drivers with iDrive 8 will be able to keep their vehicles up to date with the latest software at all times, thanks to the remote software upgrade feature.

With automotive technology moving quickly, though, what's covered by these updates is moving beyond just keeping your Bluetooth working with your new phone. Owners of the latest BMWs will even get more complex software updates, in areas such as driver assistance and partial automation.

Want all these fancy new features, but have a hectic schedule? To make sure your BMW isn't out of action for an update like your work laptop on a Monday morning, the BMW 8 operating system will also let you schedule the installation of a software upgrade remotely.

So there’s a hell of a lot of stuff happening remotely, that’s the main thing to take away from this.

Of course, those of us still driving less futuristics vehicles are going to need to take charge of updating BMW software ourselves.

Want to make sure your BMW's software is up to date? Find out more about software updates, when you need them and how it's done.

Navigation with BMW Maps

It's a decision that makes a lot of sense. A big part of BMW's software push – both iDrive 8 and the My BMW App – is geared towards keeping an eye on your EV's charge levels, and locating charging stations. We're all used to finding gas stations, but to make the jump to electric, BMW is giving a helping hand.

When using BMW Operating System 8, you'll find that digital navigation, parking and charging services are fully integrated into the cloud-based BMW Maps system in a user-friendly manner. So it's even easier to find your way around and do what you need to do in unfamiliar towns and neighborhoods.

Intelligent navigation

One thing that really stands out with BMW Maps on Operating System 8 is the intelligence helping you plan your routes. As your phone picks up your daily usage habits and starts showing you the app you're likely to use at each moment, your BMW will pay attention where to tend to go, and help you get back there.

With the "Learning to Navigate" feature, BMW Maps learns from the habits associated with the individual BMW ID, and uses them to anticipate the destination you're likely to be heading to. So if you go to your mother-in-law every Sunday at 3pm, don't worry – you won't even need to think about your destination next time ;)

BMW Maps on Operating System 8

BMW iDrive Personalization

Personalization has always been a part of the BMW iDrive system – even when it was just saving the seat position for each of your key fobs.

With Operating System 8, the personalization has gone a step further. And like so many things in our everyday lives, a lot is built around your smartphone and the BMW Digital Key.

After creating your BMW ID and logging in on your phone, your BMW will automatically adjust to you the moment it sees you coming. Seriously – wideband radio technology means your car will know exactly where you're approaching from and how far away you are, to within an inch or so.

And when you get to your car? It'll unlock, of course. You only need to carry your keyfob or a smartphone with BMW Digital Key Plus.

BMW Digital Key isn't available for older BMWs, but you can still activate keyless Comfort Access in your BMW, for a taste of the convenience the latest cars are enjoying.

Multimedia and phone connectivity

Of course, your phone isn't only for unlocking your car. And BMW iDrive 8 has all the same multimedia and telephony options you've come to expect.

Get a call on your phone? Simple, transfer it to your car's speakers and microphone.

Don't like navigating with BMW Maps – no matter how many charging stations and mother-in-laws it directs you towards? Simple, pull out your phone and use Google Maps on CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which are still fully integrated.

iDrive 7.0 vs. iDrive 8.0

As even we haven't had a chance to play around with BMW Operating System 8 yet, it's difficult to know exactly where it's going to differ from iDrive 7.0. But what we do know is:

  • Operating System 8 has a radically different menu interface – much more different than the last few iDrive versions.
  • Forthcoming BMWs will tote a massively wide BMW Curved Screen, combining an information and control display, which is unlikely to be available for cars with iDrive 7.
  • BMW iDrive 8 will probably include more customization and personalization options.. but you never know – software updates and the My BMW App might bring some of that to Operating System 7.

Want to know more about the current iDrive system, and judge for yourself how its replacement differs? Read all there is to know about BMW iDrive 7.

Summary

Not that you need to drive the latest BMW for that; with BimmerTech, you can add wireless Apple CarPlay and activate Android Auto for BMW in almost any vehicle from the last few decades.

You see? There's nothing wrong with the latest tech, but even if you've got an older vehicle, with the right retrofits you can still enjoy just a little bit of that glorious automotive future.

Anything we've missed about iDrive 8? Let us know in the comments… or just tell us how quickly you'll be upgrading to a BMW with Operating System 8 ;)

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