What, therefore, is ConnectedDrive? Well, one thing it's not, in the UK at least, is full Internet access. The hardware as fitted to the facelifted E90 3 Series does support Internet browsing. But currently this feature is exclusive to the German market. According to BMW's UK ConnectedDrive guru, Ian Munday, the German system connects to a proprietary server which reformats web pages for the iDrive interface. Consequently, it's not a simple case of flicking a switch and enabling access for UK cars. Munday says he expects full Internet access to become part of the UK ConnectedDrive package no later than the third quarter of 2010.
Hardware wise, ConnectedDrive consists of a 2.5G network adapter compatible with EDGE-based cellular networks. That right, folks. There's no 3G connectivity. By default, ConnectedDrive logs onto the T-Mobile network but can also access Vodafone and O2. Orange is the only network with which it won't tango due to its lack of support for GPS location forwarding. Of course, all of this is pretty academic to the ConnectedDrive owner. It all happens invisibly - the car has its own SIM built into the dash but there are no bills to pay for the ConnectDrive service for the first three years following purchase.
Arguably the most intriguing feature in ConnectedDrive is MyInfo. It's part of a user profile that not only resides in the car itself but also in the form of a web-accessible interface. In the long run BMW intends for these profiles to be fully portable between cars. Already, on the latest 7 Series it's possible to download profiles including parameters such as seat positions onto a USB key. You can then plop yourself into another Seven and sit back as it configures the car for your physical and environmental edification. Very clever stuff indeed.
The system on the 3 Series isn't quite so sophisticated, but it still has some seriously funky features. Our favourite is known as SendtoCar. Superficially, it's a simple concept: sending messages to the car via the cellular connection. In practice, it's an incredibly powerful feature. The idea is that you use either BMW's dedicated ConnectedDrive web portal or Google Maps to send location data to the car from a PC or other web-enabled device.
To take Google Maps as our example, simply fire up Google Maps on a PC and find the required location or destination in the usual manner. Then, in the white dialogue box that pops up over the target location, select "Send" and then "Car". Next choose BMW from the list of supported manufacturers (which you won't be surprised to hear currently only includes BMW), following which you input your BMW ConnectedDrive login details. Along with the location, you can add further information including phone numbers and general text notes. Finally, hit send and marvel as the data magically finds its way to your BMW parked outside.
Once inside the car, the info appears as a message both in the BMW Online Services menu and in the telephony subsection. You can review the details and then transfer the location information to the navigation system with a click of a button. In other words, instead of the usual tedium of in-car sat-nav programming that punctuates the beginning of so many journeys, simply set everything up from the ease and comfort of your home or office computer before hopping into the car and rolling out immediately.
It's particularly useful for days when you have multiple appointments. We speak from experience when we say a day spent house hunting with ConnectedDrive is an absolute breeze. Simply send out a message for each appointment including the time, location and the contact involved and away you go. The system also supports journeys with multiple waypoints.
Of course, Google isn't sending this data direct to the car. It merely sends the data to BMW's ConnectedDrive server, which then forwards it to the car. But you get the idea. BMW has its own online mapping application on the ConnectedDrive web portal which does much the same job.