BMW’s first integrated navigation system was on the E38 7 series in 1994 – almost twenty years ago. Today BMW announced enhancements to ConnectedDrive that takes advantage of recent innovations and paves the way for future advancement. These changes are coming to the upscale BMW
Professional navigation system.

Armed with a faster processor and additional video processing capabilities, the ConnectedDrive nav system delivers enhanced usability, with greater visual appeal, and better reliability.

Split screen guidance, called ‘High Guiding’ by BMW should reduce the ambiguity facing drivers when driving in unfamiliar surroundings. The demonstration videos BMW showed during the press conference looked quite good.

From the BMW press release:

“For the purposes of actual route guidance, the familiar guiding function using arrows in the split screen has now been supplemented by a High Guiding variant, which clearly flashes up detailed navigation information in the multifunctional instrument cluster display, the central information display as well as the Head-Up Display. High Guiding is automatically activated when the vehicle comes within a certain range of the next navigation instruction: from a distance of 300 metres outside built-up areas and 150 metres in built-up areas, the reduced arrow display switches to a detailed bird’s-eye perspective of the
surrounding area. The driver furthermore receives precise directions for changing lane at the right time. As the driver draws closer to the event, the display gradually shifts from the bird’s-eye map view to an overhead view of the traffic situation for optimum orientation and guidance. A dynamic display of the vehicle’s present position calculated in real time serves as an aid that allows drivers to closely track their progress throughout the turn-off phase.”

In addition the voice input to the navigation system looked very straightforward and is safer than twiddling with the iDrive knob and multiple menus worth of input to enter. It’s safer – and that’s one of the overarching goals of the new generation of ConnectedDrive.

The new iDrive now sports a 250GB hard drive compared to 200GB previous generation. 20GB are now reserved for media storage (previously 12.5 GB). To cope with all the software upgrades, the iDrive goes through a hardware iteration as well with a new CPU (Intel 1.3 GHZ)  and upgraded graphics card (nVidia).

And speaking of the iDrive knob, it’s upper surface willow ‘touch’ inputs. It can be used to zoom in and out on maps or even websites. Additionally, character input will be possible. That functionality will roll out into the Chinese market initially but will follow into other markets in the near future. BMW says the iDrive Touch knob is slightly larger than the previous one.

Utilizing Nuance’s Dragon Drive! software, the new ConnectedDrive will allow short speech-to-text messages to be built in response to incoming e-mail or text messages. This is certainly safer than attempting to text while driving.

Enhanced voice control is something to look forward too as it rolls out across the model line in the future.

Another interesting feature announced is that two phones can be paired to the system. And the entertainment features have been enhanced with new playback functions, including a “more like this” automatic playlist generator.

Third party applications can be developed for use with BMW’s ConnectedDrive thanks to an available SDK (Software Development Kit). Currently the apps are those vetted for use on iOS. An existing approved iOS app will have to be optimized for ConnectedDrive using the SDK and then approved for use in the BMW system.

BMW also mentioned that in Europe, for the time being, an LTE (Long Term Evolution – a mobile telephony standard, aka 4G) hotspot can be added to the vehicle allowing for a plethora of high speed connected devices to be used by passengers. The company has yet to decide what the plans are for the U.S. market and a decision will be made next year.

July 2012 production for U.S. models will bring the updated navigation system to the following vehicles: 3 Series Sports Wagon, ActiveHybrid 3, 5 Series Sedan and Gran Turismo, 7 Series, M5 and M6. The new F30 3 Series Sedan will receive the update in November 2012.

The iDrive Touch knob won’t be available until 2013, yet Chinese customers will get to enjoy the technology this year.

In all this was a good progress report on how BMW continues to integrate the latest in mobile communications technology as safely, stylishly, and seamlessly as possible into the driving environment.