Monday, April 26, 2021

Stuttgart/Munich: Gazing West, to Cupertino

"Digital experiences are marketing"

"If you don't have digital experiences, you are not on the radar screen. You're irrelevant" - Kjell Gruner [1].


Tap Sport. Launch. Paddle: M1 - M2 - M3 - M4. What's the point of 5 - 8?

Twin Turbo. Intercooled. Open space. No traffic. A blast to drive.

Two days exploring 2 and four lane roads in a fun, German car. The unusually long Friday evening Hertz queue paid off in a terrific ride.


CarPlay worked some but not all times with the BMW's iDrive computer/display. Curiously after an occasional stop, my iPhone would continue displaying directions, but the iDrive screen reverted to an unresponsive connect my device mode. I drove on without a visual map, audio book controls or the car's audio system voice prompts.

The behavior was identical, whether my iPhone was tethered via a USB cable or wireless CarPlay.

I later discovered that a phone call would restore all aspects of CarPlay + BMW to their intended state.

Touring beautiful, open spaces while glancing at the BMW's many buttons and screens offered an opportunity to reflect on my February, 2014 BMW i3 drive and subsequent words: The i3 Long Bet:

I’ll digress a bit and suggest that auto manufacturers will rue the day that they decided not to make software experience a core competency. I am not suggesting the the car companies do it all, rather that they focus on the essentials and make the owner’s experience paramount. The software, or metadata interface is the likely path into the game for car sharing and other value extraction services. (see also Ford said to drop Microsoft for Blackberry’s QNX)

BMW’s iDrive joins the i3 party. The interior materials and finish are nicely done and I found the front and back entry/exit door design to be interesting. I then turned my attention to the driver interface.

One can imagine the planning meetings where a variety of interior experience scenarios were discussed, fought, battled and likely not settled. Ulimately, BMW’s iDrive made the cut, perhaps with blood on the floor, which meant bringing along nearly 15 years worth of evolution (some might say “technical debt“) along with a return to more interface buttons. That just does not seem to fit the i3 ethos, particularly in a car that broke the BMW exterior styling mode. Compare the Tesla Model S (admittedly more money) approach (image) and the i3 (image).

Fast forward to April, 2021.

I remain astonished that BMW's iDrive plus many buttons remains largely the same as my 2014 i3 experience - now more than 7 years ago. Will the experience be different in +7 years? Will the auto players be the same, or might new entrants establish a beachhead?

Over dinner recently, a friend and recent VW SUV driver mentioned that Volkswagen aims to be the largest Electic Vehicle producer. I cautioned "we'll see". The basis of competition is changing, as Porsche's US boss recently noted [1].

1. President of Porsche US, quoted in Bloomberg.

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