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Mobility and milestones: 2012 BMW ConnectedDrive system adds 3D maps, touchpad, and 4G LTE hotspot

Mobility and milestones: 2012 BMW ConnectedDrive system adds 3D maps, touchpad, and 4G LTE hotspot

It’s no secret that there is a love-hate relationship between us and in car navigation systems. Suffice it to say we have yet to come across a system that ticks every box when it comes to functionality and user intuitiveness. Most do an admirable job, but in the end suffer due to poor implementation and unruly controls. So naturally when BMW announced that its next generation infotainment system would offer a new milestone in networked mobility we had to dial back our initial excitement to account for what would inevitably be disappointment. From what we gather so far though, that might not be the case.

Now, BMW says it was the first automaker to offer built-in navigation system back in 1994 for its 7-Series. We can’t even begin to imagine what a nightmare that must have been, but it also shows the automaker is no stranger to implementing new in-car technologies to its vehicles.

BMW ConnectedDrive 3D Maps

Called ConnectedDrive, BMW’s newest system sees major improvements to both design and functionality. On the design front, BMW has implemented a graphics overhaul with black backgrounds, atmospheric lighting effects, and overall sharper visuals thanks to 1.3GHz processor and dedicated 3D graphics chip. Speaking of 3D, users can now view maps in 3D for select locations and cities, lending an even sharper visual aesthetic to the whole experience.

ConnectedDrive will also see the introduction of BMW’s iDrive Touch: a touchpad interface placed atop BMW’s familiar iDrive dial controller and measuring 45 mm in diameter. Similar to the capacitive controls found on today’s smartphones, drivers will be able to magnify maps with a simple swipe and pinch, as well as enter in characters with their fingertips. BMW plans on adding browser functionality, like surfing the Internet, down the road, so using the touchpad like a mouse should be both easy and intuitive to anyone who has ever operated a laptop. According to BMW, the iDrive Touch is particularly adept at handling the Chinese language’s thousands of characters and will launch there later this month, with all other markets to follow next year.

BMW ConnectedDrive Touchpad

Nowadays having to leave your house or office’s steady stream of Wi-Fi can be scarier than anything the outside world will throw at you, which is why staying connected becomes so integral for people on the go. With ConnectedDrive, BMW is gunning to be the first car manufacturer to bring a 4G LTE hotspot into the vehicle. Drivers need only insert an LTE-capable SIM card into BMW’s LTE Car Hotspot. Once activated the hotspot can broadcast 4G data speeds, and even be removed from the vehicle and used on the go, providing up to 30 minutes of use via its built-in battery pack or longer when plugged into a USB power source. BMW says in areas where LTE is not yet available, the adapter will switch to a UMTS or GSM network.

Scientifically speaking, voice-recognition technology usually sucks. But that’s not stopping BMW from further integrating various new features with its latest system. The latest in this department includes message dictation and text-to-talk sound the most promising, though whether they pan out as intended remains to be seen. With message dictation, users can record voice memos up to two minutes long and send them via email. Alternatively, text messages can be sent in much the same fashion to phone contacts.

BMW ConnectedDrive

Finally, what would a cutting-edge infotainment system be without apps? To promote a healthy app ecosystem for ConnectedDrive, BMW plans on providing a software development kit (SDK) to third-party developers in the hopes of getting some of the more popular devs on board. Will it take? We’ll have to wait and see. Most automakers have simply sought out popular products in the past like Pandora to create compatible applications for their systems. BMW on the other hand is taken a rather novel approach by actually providing an SDK and guidelines, and extending it to Android users as well, so the results could be very interesting. 

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