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BMW Alexa Integration – The best BMW voice control system?

Paul Smith

Jan 5, 2022

BMW Alexa Integration – The best BMW voice control system?

There's nothing quite like speaking and having things automagically happen around you…Or even miles away from you!

At least, that's what the Bavarians were betting on when they first introduced Amazon's Alexa personal assistant to cars with BMW iDrive 5.0 and up.

For anybody used to using an Echo at home, taking advantage of the same capabilities behind the wheel must feel like second nature and bring an awful lot of convenience. As long as the in-car version isn’t another jack of all trades, master of none type of thing ;)

The rumor mill told us BMW Alexa integration has just as many opponents as followers, so in this post we’ll dive into its features and consider whether the decision to integrate the mother of voice assistants with BMWs was a good one.

What is BMW Alexa?

Just like any other BMW cloud-based virtual assistants, BMW Alexa allows you to interact with your car on a broad scope – from getting directions and creating playlists through checking your tire pressure or the weather to updating your to-do lists.

What sets it apart though from competing in-car systems from Apple and Google, is greater voice recognition capabilities and the smart-home connected ecosystem. While BMW CarPlay and Android Auto’s voice control is limited to performing actions in your car, the BMW Alexa is able to interact with everything your Echo can. That is – adjusting your home's temperature or switching on the porch lights from your car during the drive home, with only your voice.

Don’t have CarPlay or Android Auto in your BMW? You can retrofit it even on a 2008 car!

But here comes a question though: Do you really need to control your home's smart lighting from your car? And if you do, can't you already just do that from your smartphone anyway? With, I don't know...the Alexa app?

Maybe, but that's kind of missing the point.

As voice control technology gains ground, it's only natural that we'd expect to find it in all the areas we spend most of our lives. At home, on our smartphones (or as-yet-unsuccessful alternatives—I'm looking at you, Google Glass, if you'll excuse the pun), and in our cars.

This is becoming even clearer as the features offered by in-car computers become more advanced. Manually navigating busy menus searching for information and apps isn't really an option, and voice control is an easy way to cut through a cluttered interface and get straight to what you're looking for.

It's something the auto manufacturers, including BMW, have already realized, adding greater voice recognition capabilities to their vehicles over the last few years.

BMW Alexa integration vs Amazon Alexa BMW Connected skill

Much to the delight of Bimmers the first attempts to integrate Amazon devices with BMW vehicles started back in 2016 when both companies introduced the BMW Connected Alexa Skill Commands, which were to be used at home via Amazon Echo (or similar) devices.

​​As part of the In-Home Services feature, you could pair your BMW Connected account to your Echo device and utilize it to communicate with your 2014+ BMW about certain topics, such as checking whether your car is locked and what’s your fuel range or use the remote services to turn your climate control on, honk the horn, flash the lights and so on.

After this partnership turned out to be a success, an in-car BMW Alexa integration came along with even more functionalities available to use while on the road. From now on you could play music, get directions, control your smart home devices and even dig through the restaurant’s menu while still being caught up in traffic.

How does Alexa work in BMW?

For the BMW Alexa built-in, simplicity is key. Just say ‘Alexa’ (in some cars you may have to press the button on your steering wheel first) and spontaneously ask your question. That’s right – there’s no need to stick to the rigid format of preset phrases. Thanks to the Natural Language Processing, BMW Alexa integration will recognize the context of your question and respond verbally and visually within seconds.

So if you were ever wondering how to start a call with Alexa using BMW Connected or put on your Audible playlist, here are just a few examples of the quick commands:

“..., play my road trip playlist.”

“..., call Joann.”

“..., add milk to my shopping list.”

“..., set the house temperature to 70”

“..., reorder dog food.”

“..., what’s my range?”

“..., what’s my tire pressure?”

See how BMW Alexa commands work in action!

But voice recognition is more than just picking out sounds and guessing what words are being said. It's about giving the sequence of words some kind of meaning, and figuring out how to respond. Not only adjusting your car's AC when you say 'air conditioning temperature to 75 degrees, over,' but also when you say 'please make it a little warmer in here' or 'a bit more heat would be great' or 'I'm freezing, can't you, you know, do something about it?'

With an Echo user base that can be measured in the millions in the US alone, Amazon is far better positioned than BMW (or any other automaker) to get to grips with this kind of conversational language. By teaming up with Amazon, BMW got a possibility to bring a slice of that knowledge into their vehicles.

BMW Alexa Integration vs BMW Personal Assistant

And so it did! In fact going beyond what was ever expected. Amazon paved the way for BMW’s own intelligent assistant which nailed the NLP technology on top of the driver learning processes in cars with MGU.

Dig into a guide to BMW iDrive 7.0 (MGU).

It’s true the BMW Alexa integration introduced broader voice control capabilities unlimited to what’s inside your car, but some could say BMW Personal Assistant won a battle on the field of in-car experience. BMW’s innovation has the ability to learn the driver’s routines and habits which can be applied later in the correct context. That is – it gets to know your preferences and is familiar with your favorite settings, whether that applies to navigation routes, cheering up the mood, turning on the relaxation mode or setting up the preferred seat heating. You can even change its name to lend him some extra personality as your on-the-road companion.

See how BMW Personal Assistant works for cars with iDrive 7.0.

Which BMWs can have Alexa built-in?

The current rules for your vehicle to be equipped with BMW Alexa Integration are:

  • it has to be equipped with BMW Operating System 5, 6 or 7 with voice recognition
  • it has to possess one of these optional BMW navigation packages: Navigation (6UN), Navigation Plus (6UP), Navigation Business (606) or Navigation Professional (609) or Connected Package Professional (6C4)
  • it comes from one of these countries: USA, Canada, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, France or Brazil
  • it’s paired with the My BMW App (previously BMW Connected App), an Amazon account and a BMW ID
  • the paired iPhone needs to run iOS 12.0 or later, or 6.0 or newer Android version

Don’t know which iDrive version you have? Check it in our blog post.

How do I connect Alexa to my BMW Connected?

To activate BMW Alexa integration in your BMW, you’ll have to open My BMW remote app:

1. Press ‘Profile’.

2. Choose ‘Amazon Alexa’.

3. Connect your BMW ID to your Amazon account by pressing ‘Connect’.

4. Enter your Amazon credentials and press ‘Sign in’.

5. Choose the Alexa language.

6. Turn on ‘Share location with Amazon’.

If you have a vehicle with BMW iDrive 7.0 you’ll additionally have to adjust its settings and make sure you’re logged in with the same BMW ID as in the app:

1. Go to ‘Car’.

2. Enter ‘Settings’.

3. Choose ‘General settings’.

4. Tap on ‘Personal Assistant’.

5. Choose ‘Voice control’.

6. Check the ‘Online speech process’ and ‘Third party providers’ boxes.

7. Check the box ‘Activation word’.

8. In the main iDrive menu go to ‘Com’.

9. Enter ‘Mobile devices’.

10. Add ‘New device’.

11. Select ‘Phone calls and audio’.

12. After connecting your phone via Bluetooth, check if all 3 icons of phone call and multimedia are active.

13. Select the connected mobile device.

14. Check the ‘Allow connection’ box.

Once you complete the steps above you can test the Alexa function on your iDrive features and menu – keep in mind it won’t replace the Siri or Google assistant on your BMW Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

How to retrofit BMW Alexa?

But what if your BMW with a compatible iDrive still lacks Alexa or perhaps you have an even older car without the necessary nav packages and Bluetooth capabilities… is it possible to retrofit the Alexa Integration somehow?

Not quite. For the moment you surely can’t count on a spot on Alexa built-in retrofit, or a head unit swap that would come with the Alexa feature already in.

Your only option at that point is sticking to external devices offered by Amazon – such as the Echo Auto which is an MP3 player-sized module mounted on your air vents acting as a bridge between your phone and your BMW speakers. It may not be the most convenient option considering the extra USB cables on display and clunky access to the navigation of your choice, but it still does it’s job pretty well when it comes to playing music from streaming services, making calls to your contact lists or doing anything else your home based Echo device would.

How to retrofit BMW Alexa

BMW Alexa – was the integration worth it?

With fully autonomous vehicles looming large on the horizon, the place for advanced in-car computers — particularly those with voice control functionality — is only going to grow. Without having to worry about that pesky business of actually driving your car, you're suddenly freed to use your favorite apps, read the news or even lead conference calls.

And with the need for dashboard controls spread out in front of the now-non-existent driver eliminated, what better way to access all these features than with your voice?

We’d say Amazon’s technology undeniably brought great know-how to the Bavarian brand, equipping it with hacks on what makes a perfect driver-focused companion – perhaps ready to take over the lead in the future. And even though the BMW Personal Assistant might seem like a better way out for those with Operating System 7, owners of older generation cars (featuring iDrive 5.0/6.0) will definitely benefit from the familiar voice capabilities offered by Alexa worldwide.

All that's left is to find something a little more useful to do on the highway than turn your porch lights on...

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