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BMW 330d M Sport with ConnectedDrive - ConnectedDrive - BMW Online & Google

By Jeremy Laird



BMW Online

The next major part of ConnectedDrive is BMW Online. This is the most obviously "webby" part of the platform. Think of it as a mini BMW-branded web portal with limited functionality and you'll get the idea. It opens with a four-day local weather forecast based on location data from the GPS system. Below that there's a menu of web services, including News, Google Search and Weather.

News is a lot like a WAP portal on a cheap mobile phone. Sections include Top News, UK News, Sports, Business and Entertainment. Every section has a selection of ten news stories, each with a single, small image above a column of text. It's functional enough, but hardly comprehensive. If you were stuck in the car with no other means of communication, it would be better than nothing.

The Weather section pretty much speaks for itself other than the fact that it can also tell you the weather at the target destination programmed into the navigation system, which is moderately useful.

Google Search

The most interesting part of BMW Online, therefore, is Google Search. It's not a full search function, more of a customised local search incorporating mapping. You start by typing in key words associated with a point of interest (this must be done via the iDrive wheel, voice input is not supported here). The system then spits out a list of geographically relevant results based on either your current position or your chosen destination. A Google-served map is also generated with pointers for each location just like the standard web interface. Having chosen one, you push the location data into the navigation system and off you go. Oh, and the results also attach small thumbnail images of the location if available.

Essentially, it's a glorified, Google-branded online points-of-interest database. Except that it kind of sucks. For starters, it's bloody slow. Frankly, the sluggishness of the Edge network connection makes using any of the online services pretty painful - even moving about the menus seems to take aeons. But Google Search is particularly tedious. Making matters worse, the results list is usually pretty baffling. The problem is the lack of detail. Search, say, for a Waitrose supermarket and you will be treated with a long list of apparently identical one or two word entries. You have to click through to the entry page to get more information, which is the last thing you want to do given how long it takes anything to load.

Even then, the full information pages are often patchy and incomplete while the Google Maps interface looks like an extremely rushed afterthought. It's the only part of the iDrive interface that lacks polish. What's more, we found the data to be unreliable, sometimes navigating us to locations that were either out of date or flat wrong.

Ultimately, Google Search is nowhere near reliable enough to be regularly useful. Surprising to say, but BMW's alternative iDrive POI database, though more limited, is more reliable, easier to use and generally a better bet. At best Google Search is an interesting first-gen system, but only because it hints at the possible capabilities of future implementations.

Finally, it's worth noting that all the online services including Google Search are only accessible when the car is stationary. While we appreciate the safety issues involved, we think some kind of override that allows passengers to use the system on the move will eventually be essential.


April 28, 2009, 1:16 pm

A hideously looking monstrosity of a car. BMW's of late look absolutely vile! And don't get me started on the X6....


April 28, 2009, 5:44 pm

@Steve - You’ll get no argument from me, I think that the 3 Series saloon is an ugly beast. Although at least the rear light clusters on this facelift model aren’t as rank as the ones on the original. Of course my trusty coder Rich will argue to the death that the 3 Series saloon is stunning, but at least he’s otherwise sane.

Personally I just can’t believe how big the 3 Series is now. The 1 Series coupe is about the size that the E30 3 Series coupe was! There’s no denying that the technology that BMW is squeezing into its cars is pretty impressive though.


April 28, 2009, 7:24 pm

Regarding Information Plus - I'm sure that Fiat had something like this about five or six years ago in the Stilo. Anybody remember? If you went for the satnav option and installed a simcard, you could press some sort of 'Help' button and be put through to a call centre where they could send e.g. a local hotel (or garage more like) to your Nav.

Or am I dreaming again? If not, it's surprising how long it takes for tech to make it's way through cars...


April 28, 2009, 10:27 pm

@Mario: Sounds like you're thinking of SmartNav. That's not particularly new or impressive technology and it's not confined to Fiat. It's not quite the same thing either. If you asked the SmartNav lady for the atomic weight of Boron, she'd probably hang up on you whereas a BMW lady would kindly oblige.

The closest I've heard of is the 'concierge' service that used to come with a VW Phaeton, although that was more for restaurant reservations, theatre tickets and the like.


April 28, 2009, 10:58 pm

I still think the previous generation 3 series looks far more 'premium' that the current version. The interiors have always been solid but at the same time looked a little old fashioned too, eg. the dials haven't changed much over the years. However, you just can't argue with the way they drive, they are all excellent cars (begrudgingly even the X5 & X6, for what they are), and the latest generation of diesel engines are in a league of their own, returning some amazing Co2 results alongside some serious performance figures.

Anyway, there has to be a point when all this tech gets distracting to the driver, but then seeing as we spend more and more time stuck in traffic jams, having lots of functionality might actually help preserve our sanity!!

Mark Peter

April 28, 2009, 11:49 pm

"open out the iDrive platform" - now there's a thought. It's one thing to brick your iphone with a dodgy app but messing up your traction control system opens up whole ranges of interesting possibilities...


April 29, 2009, 3:48 pm

@ChrisC: The facelift gives it a far more 'premium' look. The new creases in the bonnet lend some aggression and the new rear and light clusters are far more distinctive. The previous rear clusters were ripped straight from a Mitsubishi Charisma, the most inaptly named car in history.

Also, look out for some impressive new diesel engines from Mercedes and Jaguar. Merc's new 4-cyl C250 CDI does 0-60 in 7.1, returns 'over 50 mpg' and pumps out 138g/km CO2.

Jim Fulton

April 30, 2009, 1:31 am

I drive an 07 335d Coupe, with the earlier generation iDrive. I agree with a lot Jeremy says, I went for upgraded speakers and they make a big difference to the sound, much cheaper than the horrendously expensive Harmon Kardon option. As for the quoted range, you'll find that a bit optimistic. 600-650 miles, certainly, I manage around 500-550 in the 335d at a steady 75-80 on a long run.

Agree with Chris, the new Jaguar XF engine with the twin turbodiesel is getting great reviews, must be worth a look.

Rich 42c5

May 1, 2009, 7:53 pm

A stunning, stunning car. I'd hit it


July 27, 2010, 5:43 pm

Thanks for the great info on connected drive. I have just bought a new F10 5 series that includes the same system, and was looking for more in depth tech info that you described.

Overall it is a great system, I am just waiting until the third party hackers start on it so we get things like custom POI (speed cameras) for the NAV, video interface for iPod etc.


June 3, 2013, 10:39 am

Beautiful car man

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