The folks at Bimmerpost uncovered BMW patent drawings that showed a seven speed manual shifter and shift functionality. What caught my attention was the notion that BMW was developing a shifting mechanism that could physically prevent shifting into a lower gear that could over-rev the engine. That is a physical mechanism, not electronic. That could mean that the shifter is still a direct linkage to the gearbox and a clutch. (If you can row the gears through physical gates, why not retain the clutch. If you go to an electronic shifting mechanism, why retain the clutch.)
It is odd that the drawing shows the seventh gear at the right edge of the neutral gate (the neutral gate is more like the neutral line). I would have expected to see that as a leg off the neutral gate, much like the other six gears and reverse are. Currently Porsche offers a seven speed manual gearbox made by ZF. Don Sherman has a good technical writeup of the both the manual, and DPK versions of that gearbox here.
The question is would BMW have two variants of a similar gearbox built? It would seem that the BMW may have access to the seven speed manual soon. The gearbox manufacturer normally assures the auto manufacturer partner for a new gearbox exclusive rights to use the gearbox for about eighteen months. The timing would be right. And BMW would differentiate their manual shifting version with the lockout feature to prevent catastrophic engine failure following the choice of a wrong gear.
So what do we know? The seven speed manual provided for Porsche by ZF is probably nearing the end of its exclusivity agreement. The Porsche gearbox is a longitudinal mount, even though the case and power routing are optimized for Porsche’s peculiar powerplant placement (sorry the alliteration was too alluring to pass up). BMW has the option of offering their current electronically (automated double clutch) seven speed version as well as a new, protected from over-revs, manual shifting variant.
The folks at M will tell you to get the double-clutch. Us diehard self-shifters will opt for the manual.