BMW is going to 'attend' the Consumer Electronics Show this week with the latest version of its iDrive infotainment system. Well, we say attend, but of course like everything right now, this year's CES is being held virtually, rather than in a huge convention centre in Las Vegas.
ix SUV and E65 7 Series will tell the iDrive story
That won't stop BMW using the (virtual) show floor to show off the latest version of iDrive, some 20 years since the original system made its debut in the E65 7 Series. Actually, a 2001 7 Series will appear in a special video, alongside a new iX electric SUV, to help demonstrate the development of Munich's in-car infotainment systems over those two decades (and is it just us, or is BMW putting an E65 7 Series next to an iX kind of a way of saying 'you might eventually like the way this one looks, too?).
Huge, curved, screen
While full details of the new iDrive system won't be available until later in the year, BMW will give us a look at the iX's new, huge, curved infotainment screen and software at CES. The screen, which also incorporates the digital instrument panel, sweeps across the top of the iX's dash, almost all the way over to the passenger's side. According to BMW: "The next generation of BMW iDrive takes the burgeoning relationship between a BMW and its driver to a new level. The new system neatly bridges the gap between analogue and digital technology. And this, in turn, heralds another paradigm shift, as the number of available functions in a car and their complexity continue along a constant upward curve. Digital intelligence has been introduced into cars, optimised sensors now allowing them to perceive and analyse their surroundings. As a result, elements of driving and parking can be automated to an increasing degree. And cloud-based services dip into a growing pool of real-time data.
"This means that, in many situations, the vehicle has access to a greater supply of information than the driver. For example, it can receive and display hazard warnings from other BMW vehicles and make predictions on the availability of parking spaces at a destination. Developments will continue in this direction, presenting the car's display and operating system with fresh challenges now and in the future. The next-generation BMW iDrive is set up to utilise the potential of an intelligently connected vehicle more extensively than ever and so make the mobility experience even safer, even more comfortable and convenient, and even richer in variety."
However, although the big new screen is a touchscreen, BMW has (thankfully) not gotten rid of the good old 'click-wheel' controller, which still sits between the front seats on the centre console. Given the recent concerns expressed by both the EU and the British government over the distractions caused by in-car touchscreens, BMW is touting that physical rotary controller as a continued safety bonus: "The combination of iDrive controller and voice control made operating the car's systems significantly easier and safer. Where the driver previously had to find and engage a different dedicated button in the cockpit for each individual function, now they could keep their hand in one place on the Controller, which occupied an ergonomically ideal location on the centre console." BMW says that its voice control has also been dramatically updated in the years since, and since 2015 natural language understanding has enabled systems to be operated using naturally spoken instructions instead of pre-set commands. That might exorcise the ghost some of us will still have of watching Ozzy Osbourne becoming ever more confused and irate, yelling commands at his 2001 7 Series' voice control...