BMW Motorrad's Electronics Dumpster Fire (Part 2)

April 17, 2021

This week, BMW Motorrad live-streamd a podcast about their new BMW Connected electronics platform. Host Andy Dukes shared the community’s questions with Roman Vilimek, BMW’s Product Manager ConnectedRide, and Christian Huppertz, Product Owner of ConnectedRide.

During the show, they fielded a question that I had posed, which I appreciate very much. It’s never fun for product leaders to field difficult questions. It’s especially challenging when the criticism is sharp, and the product team knows it:

For motorcycle enthusiasts, it’s worth watching the entire event.

Great Bikes

Before I address the answer offered, it’s important to remember that I love BMW motorcycles. I have owned four of them. My last two daily-riders have been BMWs: an R1200GS and an R1250RT. I believe they are some of the best motorcycles on the road, and I pay premium for them because I have great experiences on them. They embody the right mix of quality, performance, and practicality for me in almost every category. Electronics are a rare exception.

BMW’s Answer

I heard two very important, and very distinct, things in their answer to this question. One leaves me optimistic, one leaves me cynical. First…

That’s a question we get quite often.

It’s kind of obvious that we should think about it.

This is good to hear, and I trust that BMW Motorrad is exploring CarPlay and Andriod Auto vigorously. Contrast that with this part of their answer:

Sometimes we get asked, “Do you really think that you are better at digital solutions than Apple or Google?” No, we don’t. But maybe we are better at motorcycle riding.

We do the motorcycle riding. That’s why we focused on getting a navigation app that is focusing on what you need on a motorcycle.

This is where BMW’s attitude falls apart. It’s the ‘we know best’ syndrome, at its very worst. I have spent time with a 2021 R1250RT to experience the new Connectivity app first-hand. In fact, it was so confusing that I had to demonstrate to the dealership staff how to get it to work. Multiple connections (bluetooth and wifi) for customers to confirm with the bike, and a host of other problems enumerated in the majority of the questions in this podcast reinforce that you have created a circa-2013 mapping experience that’s years behind state of the art.

Your justification of this approach - that only Apple Maps and Google Maps were supported and don’t make great motorcycle experiences, is another data point demonstrating how far behind you’ll continue to fall. In the mere months since you made the poor decision to reinvent limited maps experiences yourself, multiple great motorcycle apps have been approved for CarPlay use:

BMW poured engineering resources into building both the vehicle and phone sides of the expeirence, shipped something that feels beta quality at best, and now must scramble to fix the bugs and improve the experience to be usuable. You spent the last year building technical debt atop the existing electronics debt you already had.

Worse, this has been done by usupring people’s phones while riding. Despite claiming to not care whose riding app customers use, to get any connected functionaly on BMW bikes, I have to turn over my phone to their “we know best - it’s maps only for you!” system. Customers care about other things. Some customers care about voice assistants (Siri, Google Assistant). Other customers care about notifications. Some want to be able to take a call while continuing to navigate. Each of these scenarios came up from other customers during this Q&A, and each is solved elegantly by CarPlay and Andriod Auto.

BMW, it’s arrogant for you to say, “We know motorcycle riding best,” and then take over a vital device like an iPhone by limiting functionality to what you consider important, and only what you consider important (maps). Customers know their needs, so keep listening. If you carry on with your, “We know motorcycling best, so so we’ll decide what’s important for you to do with your phone while riding,” you will lose customers.

We will have a look at new functionality on the bikes but we need to think about when is the optimal time to bring a new experience to bikes.

That’s great. But as I said in my original post:

Recognize that Apple Carplay and Android Auto are better than any solution that BMW or Garmin will ever build. These are what customers want. Other manufactures have leapfrogged BMW in this regard. Not just any manufacturers, but ones that BMW should be quite embarrassed to be trailing! Here are three examples: Harley Davidson, Honda, Indian.

Some of these manufacturers support both Carplay and Android Auto, and deployment began in 2017. Here we are in 2020 with no option for making life a ride and still being in touch on our BMWs.

Stop Digging

You can keep talking about how you’ll consider when it’s time for this, and meanwhile the rest of the industry is leading you. They listened to customers, and delivered what customers want. BMW Motorrad is far behind in connected riding experiences on motorcycles. Other manufacturers lead the way today.

I recongize that some riders want a pure experience. I appreciated my speedometer-only R nineT very much! Keeping distractions to a minimum is important. But for many riders, staying connected beyond an outdated mapping experience is an important part of enabling more riding. Apple and Google have years invested in state-of-the-art UI, layout, fonts, animations, notifications, all of the things that you claim BMW is better qualified to do on motorcycles. You’re simply wrong, and the problem-ridden nature of the questions in this podcast demonstrate that: Nearly every question was a problem report or a feature request.

Glad you’re listening, BMW. I appreciate that you’re exploring adding new expeirences. But stop thinking you know motorcycling better than your customers who are riding your bikes. I continue to enjoy my 2020 RT, electronics dumpster fire and all, but my next new bike will have CarPlay. Roman, Christan: It’s up to you as to whether that’ll be a BMW or not.

Oh, yes Steve Jobs was seen riding an R60/2 back in 1982. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.