If you own a BMW and have recently experienced problems accessing CarPlay in your vehicle, you’re not alone. Several BMW owners took to Reddit over the last few days to share their inability to use CarPlay, seemingly due to a server-side issue rather than having anything to do with hardware inside the cars themselves or the drivers’ iPhones.
A BMW spokesperson confirmed with Jalopnik that the outage was the result of a “technical problem” that is now supposedly resolved:
Due to a technical problem last week, some BMW ConnectedDrive Services, including support for Apple CarPlay became temporally unavailable for some U.S.-customers. After quickly identifying the issue, we were able to fully restore all connected services on Sunday, December 6th. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.
A Reddit post by user RhodiumOwl, also on December 6, suggested BMW customer service representatives and the automaker’s app told owners that they needed to subscribe to the ConnectedDrive service to use CarPlay:
Just got off the phone with BMW (the Connected Drive people) and they said there’s a big problem on their end with CarPlay - and thus everyone with a BMW should be having problems right now. Mine stopped worked today all of a sudden...
Also, the rep was trying to tell me that I needed to have a Connected Package subscription to make CarPlay work. I don’t think that’s true...
Yeah, it wasn’t true. BMW did hatch a plan in 2019 to charge customers $80 per year or $300 for 20 years (yes, 20 years) of CarPlay access, but doubled back on that after a torrent of criticism from every corner of the automotive and tech realms.
As it stands, CarPlay remains free, but for some reason, the feature is obviously still flagged and monitored within BMW’s servers, as it went down for a number of people at once. And it appears that the new Supra, which also uses BMW’s iDrive system, wasn’t immune either. One reader tipped us off to this SupraMKV.com forum thread, where several replies describe a phenomenon eerily similar to that experienced by some BMW owners.
What makes this glitch especially infuriating is that it’s, of course, entirely of BMW’s own making, and should never have happened in the first place. The beauty of phone projection software like CarPlay and Android Auto is that they shouldn’t require any legwork on the manufacturer’s part. The software exists in your phone, and is updated via your phone; your car’s infotainment system mirrors the data on its display. There’s no need to ever ping a server to open CarPlay, as that happens locally.
But this is BMW, and at the moment, BMW is tirelessly exploring exciting new ways to make new car ownership as miserable as possible via subscriptions. Charging to unlock equipment that already exists within your vehicle, like a heated steering wheel, is miserly and wasteful enough, though at least you could make the argument that it simplifies BMW’s production processes.
It’s harder to apply that attitude toward CarPlay — a feature BMW didn’t develop and does not maintain, yet feels entitled to the right to charge for on an ongoing basis anyway. When BMW unveiled its CarPlay plan last year, this was the defense the company offered, in Car and Driver’s words:
Every time Apple updates its software or adds a new feature, there’s a chance that some new snippet of code won’t play nice with the existing infotainment system, requiring an update; wireless CarPlay increases that complexity.
Sure — it’s called a software update, and consumer electronics companies have been providing those to their user base, for free, for decades. BMW may have cooled off pinching pennies on Apple’s hard work for the moment, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s only a matter of time until the carmaker floats the idea again. Once subscriptions are embedded in every other facet of BMW’s vehicles, charging for CarPlay on an ongoing basis probably won’t provoke the surprise or rage it does now. BMW, along with other greedy manufacturers, will be able to get away with it.
Oh, and another thing: As the internet deepens its hooks into our cars, there will inevitably be more potential for glitches like this to happen. Maybe you’ll randomly lose access to that heated steering wheel you rightfully paid for, or maybe it’ll be something with safety implications, like adaptive cruise control or some other form of assisted driving technology. I don’t mean to cry that the sky is falling, but as my colleague Jason said, automakers are headed down a slippery slope here, and the only power we have as consumers is to vote with our dollars.