Tech Feature Friday: Yelping in a BMW 335i
ConnectedDrive feature lets you search for restaurants near where you are and even get reviews.
When in-dash navigation systems started to appear in vehicles, I’d often hear people say they didn’t need the technology because they usually were driving in their home area and therefore knew where they’re going. With the way navigation has grown, though, it's obvious these Luddites were wrong. What has since become apparent is one of the benefits I would often point out during such conversations: A navigation system doesn’t just help you find out where you’re going, but also points out the services that are available along the way.
Now that a new generation of cloud-connected navigation relies on the Internet, rather than on the static database on a DVD or hard drive, for information, the overall systems are even more accurate and up-to-date. In the 2012 BMW 335i with the ConnectedDrive, you can access Yelp to find different types of restaurants, their location, phone numbers and how far away they are, and even get user reviews. Not only that, the system will read the reviews to you.
Well, sort of.
The feature is part of BMW Online and the BMW Assist telematics system, and the service is free for the first four years. Afterwards, the annual fee for the Safety Plan is $199 and the optional Convenience Plan, which includes BMW Online, costs $199 per year. Oh, and by the way, you need the Safety Plan to get the Convenience Plan. BMW Online also includes features such as news, weather, stock info and Google local search.
The Yelp feature falls under the Applications section of BMW Online, meaning I had to download Yelp to the system, though that was quick and easy. Getting around in the menu isn’t, however. BMW has vastly improved its iDrive controller, but the menu structures are still convoluted and require too many button pushes. Plus, the system in general is slow to respond, although that could have more to do with local cellular data connection speeds.
But once in the Yelp menu, the interface was intuitive and easy. I searched for restaurants in my area and found a favorite. I checked out several reviews, which you can read as text or have the system read them to you (in a robotic voice) by pressing a speaker icon. You can also do this while driving, although the reviews supposedly are shortened when the car is in motion, according to a BMW representative. But as you can see in the video below, the review being read to us was cut off, while we were sitting still, and we couldn’t find that particular review online nor on Yelp’s mobile site to find out what else Alida B. had to say about the place.
Still, the feature is handy when you’re looking for a place to eat and don’t know the area, or if you do know the area but aren’t familiar with the restaurants there. It’s yet another example of how navigation can come in handy on a daily basis, especially if the system is Internet-connected.
I am always concerned about the durability and cost of this type of technology. It's usually hideously expensive and becomes obsolete in a matter of a few years. Then the next owner of the car, someone like me, is stuck dealing with a big, old, piece of useless technology that takes up space in the dashboard.
All of these apps are likely available on a smart phone and probably easier to use. If auto builders really want to develop a user friendly system they should figure out how to put a nice, large, retina display (like the iPad uses) that connects to a smart phone via a USB port. Thus making the smart phone's display larger and easier to navigate by hand. If someone is using an iPhone 4S or newer he or she could even use voice commands (interacting with Siri) making it even safer to use. It would also be more durable since smart phones are more easily replaced (and less expensive as well).
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