For many people shopping for a new car, the quality of the infotainment system is an important consideration. It's something the automakers have taken on board, each scrambling to design an in-car system that will be enough to woo prospective buyers. Many, though, still struggle to produce anything that's more than merely functional. And with fragmentation between brands, these systems generally only offer a small handful of third-party integrations, falling back on native solutions for most core features, like navigation, music and messaging.
Fortunately, Apple is able to offer iPhone users a compelling alternative in the form of iPhone CarPlay, an in-car multimedia hub that lets you use many of your favorite iOS apps safely behind the wheel.
After adding BMW Apple CarPlay, you will be able to:
For anybody with a BMW, Apple CarPlay could be particularly interesting, thanks to BMW's long-standing commitment to making things easier for iPhone users.
CarPlay was launched in 2014, but was based on the pre-existing "iPod Out" functionality, codeveloped by Apple and BMW several years earlier. In a BMW, iPod Out made it possible to plug an iPod into your iDrive system and listen to your music collection through your vehicle's stereo system. At the same time, the current track or playlist could be shown on the iDrive screen, and controlling your iPod — skipping tracks, for example — could be done with your vehicle's native multimedia controls.
As iPods gave way to far more capable iPhones, Apple was able to revisit its iPod Out technology, and rebuild it with considerably more features. Rather than simply controlling music playback, the new system, dubbed CarPlay, would be able to leverage the full power of an iPhone to run a wide range of apps, including music, messaging and navigation. By creating an interface between your smartphone and your BMW's iDrive system, CarPlay lets you enjoy the best of both worlds: the versatility of an iPhone and its broad app ecosystem, combined with the convenience of the dashboard display and in-vehicle controls.
Though CarPlay lets you run many of the same familiar apps you might already be using on your iPhone, the system is optimized for in-car use. That means a new menu design that's better suited to using behind the wheel. CarPlay does support touchscreens in compatible vehicles, but the system works equally well with the buttons and knobs found on most cars' dashboards.
Unlike many other manufacturers, BMW also chose to implement wireless CarPlay, letting you connect your iPhone to your car without any cables. The result is a neater, clutter-free look that many BMW owners are sure to appreciate.
As BMW played a key role in developing CarPlay's predecessor, iPod Out, it shouldn't come as much surprise that BMW has also added Apple's latest offering to many of its cars. Since 2017, Apple CarPlay has been available in BMWs with the latest navigation systems, adding an extra layer of utility on top of its existing iDrive infotainment platform.
CarPlay is available as a factory option in most new BMW's. If your vehicle doesn't have CarPlay but you'd like to add it, you have a few retrofit options.
Even if your BMW doesn't have Apple CarPlay, it's possible that your vehicle is already fitted with all the necessary hardware. Any vehicles with the CarPlay Preparation option (S6CPA) are capable of running the native Apple CarPlay interface, after having it activated by a BMW dealership or third party using special coding software for BMWs. If you aren't sure whether your vehicle has the S6CPA option, try entering your VIN at a free online BMW VIN decoder to find out. Vehicles with an NBT Evo ID5/6 head unit with up-to-date iDrive software can even have CarPlay activated without needing the CarPlay Preparation option.
CarPlay activation is available for most recent BMW models, including:
2017–2019 BMW 2 Series
2017–2020 BMW 3 Series
2017–2019 BMW 4 Series
2017–2019 BMW 5 Series
2017–2019 BMW 6 Series
2017–2019 BMW 7 Series
2018–2019 BMW X1
2018–2019 BMW X2
2017–2019 BMW X3
2017–2019 BMW X4
2017–2019 BMW X5
2017–2019 BMW X6
2018–2019 BMW i3
2019 BMW i8
2019 BMW Z4
Apple CarPlay availabality can be also limited by your location IF you opt for a straight from the factory activation. According to Apple, CarPlay is available in more than 35 countries. But if you're not on that list, BMW can't offer you this feature. BimmerTech, on the other hand, can activate CarPlay in any country if you have the necessary hardware preparation.
As BMW's implementation of CarPlay is wireless, it is also required that your car have a WiFi antenna to allow connection between your iPhone and BMW. This is included with the CarPlay Preparation option, but can also be found in packages such as Wireless Charging (S6NVA or S6NWA) or Comfort Telephony (S6NSA or S6NPA). If your car isn't already fitted with a WiFi antenna, you'll need to add one before activating CarPlay.
For older vehicles that aren't officially supported, it's also possible to add CarPlay to your BMW with an aftermarket CarPlay unit. Unlike BMW's own implementation, many third-party Apple CarPlay retrofits rely on a wired connection, meaning not having a WiFi antenna won't be a problem.
Whether a third-party CarPlay module will work in your BMW, and what features will be available to you, depends on the exact product. BimmerTech's CarPlay MMI Prime retrofit does not require any specific package, making it a great choice for a wide variety of vehicles. Unlike many other units available, BimmerTech's is designed to integrate perfectly with your BMW, letting you use the factory iDrive screen, buttons and controllers when using CarPlay. For greater versatility, it even includes Android Auto alongside CarPlay, something BMW is yet to offer even in its latest cars. Android Auto will be coming to BMWs in July 2020, though, so it's worth getting to know Android Auto, too.
For more information, find out how to retrofit CarPlay in a 2016 or older BMW.
Though CarPlay apps are shown on your car's built-in display, and can be interacted with using the steering wheel and console controls, the apps themselves are still being run on your iPhone. That means CarPlay isn't a standalone system; it requires an iOS device to be connected to your car at all times.
On many systems, this calls for a wired connection, with the iPhone being plugged into one of the vehicle's USB ports throughout use. However, CarPlay does support wireless connections, which some manufacturers — BMW among them — have taken advantage of. In a BMW with CarPlay from the factory, it's enough to activate Bluetooth on your iPhone, hold the voice-command button on the steering wheel and navigate to Settings > General > CarPlay on your iPhone to pair the two.
With your BMW and iPhone paired, the native BMW iDrive menu will be replaced with CarPlay's alternative, showing all your available apps as iOS-like icons spread across the screen. Navigating the menu is no different from using BMW's own system, meaning you can use the iDrive controller to switch between options — or, in vehicles fitted with a touchscreen, just tap the app you want to use. What's more, the voice-control button on the steering wheel can be used to summon Siri, letting you ask for directions, dictate messages or ask for music, just as you would on an iPhone.
To use an app through CarPlay, it first has to be installed on your iPhone, but that doesn't mean every app on your phone is going to be available on CarPlay. First up, CarPlay only supports apps you're likely to use when driving: navigation, messaging and audio, including music, radio and podcasts. That covers popular preinstalled apps like Apple Maps, iMessage and Apple Music, as well as third-party offerings, like Google Maps, Audible and Overcast. Outside of those three categories, Apple has also allowed manufacturers to include their own, vehicle-specific app.
The app developer also has to enable their app for CarPlay, in part by providing an alternative interface that's better suited to use in a car. Major apps like Waze, Spotify and WhatsApp have done that, but if you use something a little more niche, you might not be able to access it through CarPlay. And even if it's available, the functionality might be limited; Facebook Messenger launched with support for receiving voice calls through CarPlay, but doesn't allow making calls or messaging. If you aren't sure whether your favorite app is supported, it's a good idea to contact the developer for clarification.
As of January 2020, available apps include:
Apple is adding new apps app the time, so to check the latest app lineup, please check the official CarPlay website.
CarPlay is only designed to work with navigation, audio and messaging apps. At present, there are no known plans to add other app categories to CarPlay. That means that if you want to use other kinds of apps in your BMW—letting your passengers watch videos, for example—CarPlay might not be the right choice for you.
However, BimmerTech offers a number of innovative solutions designed to get more of your favorite apps into your car. Our Apple TV-based SmartView HD system lets you access all Apple TV apps on the iDrive screen, including video apps like Netflix, HBO and Hulu, and is perfectly suited for iPhone users. See what Apple TV 4 can do for your BMW.
Like an iPhone, CarPlay also gives you the option to reorder the apps on the home screen, move the icons between pages or delete them entirely. That way you can always make sure you have easy access to the apps you regularly use in your car, and don't have your screen cluttered up with extra apps you don't need.
Instead of configuring CarPlay in your car, everything is done on your iPhone, in Settings > General > CarPlay. There you have the option of drag-and-dropping icons across screens to define the arrangement you'll have next time you use CarPlay in your vehicle. Tapping the minus icon on each app will remove it from CarPlay entirely. On the same screen, you're also able to decide whether or not it will be possible to use CarPlay when your iPhone is locked.
As your CarPlay preferences are stored on your iPhone, not your BMW, each person who drives your car can even set everything up totally differently, and access their unique configuration by connecting their phone. If you're already using custom driver profiles for each BMW key fob, CarPlay is going to fit right in.
Depending on your CarPlay system and the size of your vehicle's screen, CarPlay will be able to display eight or ten icons per screen. Due to this variation, anybody who drives several vehicles will have to configure CarPlay individually for each of them. The CarPlay settings page on your iPhone will show all the cars you've connected your iPhone to, and let you set up a unique menu arrangement for each. This could come in handy for anybody with a personal and company car, or a family car for the week and something sporty for the weekend. CarPlay lets you adjust the default menu on a car-by-car basis to prioritize the apps you're most likely to use at different moments in your life: messaging apps in your company car and entertainment for family outings.
By default, BMW's native CarPlay system comes with a split-screen interface, fitting a total of eight apps per screen. For an improved CarPlay experience, owners of vehicles with the latest NBT Evo ID5/6 head units can activate full-screen mode in their BMW, letting you use as many as 10 apps per page.
BimmerTech can activate this and other features with our quick and easy remote iDrive coding.
Using CarPlay full-screen also gives your navigation map and other apps more room to shine, making it easier to get the information you're looking for at a glance. Due to the advantages full-screen CarPlay offers over the split-screen alternative, third-party CarPlay retrofits like BimmerTech's CarPlay MMI Prime unit tend to use a full-screen interface as standard.
When buying a new BMW, all the optional extras are going to cost you, and CarPlay is no different. At launch in 2017, CarPlay ran to $300 in the US, roughly in line with other infotainment options.
BMW has since taken another look at the way it offers CarPlay. In an industry first, BMW has decided to make CarPlay available as a subscription service, including it free for a year in new cars and charging $80/year after that. BMW's argument is that this could turn out better for the consumer, particularly anybody who leases; it will be five years before the total cost of the subscription passes the old $300 upfront cost, so over the course of a typical three-year lease, you're going to be $140 up.
Buyers in the new and used markets might not be quite so lucky. The longer you plan to hold on to your car, the greater the premium you're going to end up paying for CarPlay, and without the first year coming free, the cost will creep up that little bit quicker. It's clear why BMW's decision to shift to a subscription model came with its share of detractors.
If you prefer paying a set fee up front instead of being saddled with an annual charge throughout the life of your car, a third-party BMW CarPlay retrofit, such as BimmerTech's, can activate CarPlay in your car without the subscription cost.
How you choose to activate Apple CarPlay in your BMW will depend on your vehicle, but BimmerTech offers solutions for a wide range of situations.
If your vehicle already has the appropriate hardware — either the CarPlay Preparation (S6CPA) option or an up-to-date NBT Evo ID5/6 head unit — we can activate BMW original CarPlay in less than an hour. Depending on your vehicle, our technician will perform the activation remotely, or you'll be sent a USB stick that will automatically unlock CarPlay when plugged into your car.
Owners of older vehicles can instead opt for our CarPlay MMI Prime retrofit, a custom module offering a fully integrated CarPlay experience.
For help finding which option is available for your vehicle, enter your VIN at the top of the page or contact us.
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