BMW was one of the early adopters to allow new car owners the option of ordering their cars with Apple CarPlay, the interface that mimics an Apple iPhone’s screen on the vehicle’s central display and still responds to normal BMW methods of control, such as iDrive. Adding CarPlay to a new BMW order costs $300. Last year, BMW made a big deal about it being the first automaker to offer wireless Apple CarPlay, meaning the iPhone no longer had to be plugged in to the vehicle’s USB port. Some other car manufacturers offer CarPlay for free, but BMW is, you know, a premium car and premium has a price.
Now it seems that a single payment for CarPlay compatibility isn’t enough of a revenue stream for BMW. A number of media outlets, including The Verge and CNET, have reported that BMW of North America revealed plans at the 2018 North American International Auto Show to switch Apple CarPlay support from that one-time fee to a monthly subscription service, and that instead of a single payment of $300 included with the price of the car, owners wanting CarPlay will have to pony up $80 a year, with the first year being free. This policy would go into effect for 2019 models.
Going by arithmetic alone, if you keep your BMW for four or fewer years, you come out ahead with the subscription. But if you hang on to your BMW for five years or longer, you lose. For most people, especially those who lease their Bimmers, this will be a non-issue. However, BMW’s rationale for the action does contain a tiny shred of logic.
Right now, if you’re an iPhone user, Apple CarPlay might be a nice thing to have. Remember, BMW does not support Android Auto and last we heard has no plans to start. By offering subscription-based service, if you dump your iPhone for an Android, you could stop the CarPlay subscription and save a few bucks.
As BMW Connected users, we have not had problems connecting to compatible iPhone apps without CarPlay, so we’re not yet convinced that CarPlay needs to be part of our BMW. We may change our mind if we ever drive a BMW with CarPlay. However, this summer BMW will offer Alexa integration in new vehicles. We like Alexa a lot, so if we can connect to our iPhone apps quickly and easily with Alexa, maybe we won’t need CarPlay at all.—Scott Blazey