March 2, 2008

BMW iDrive Still Sucks

Its been over one year since I wrote about “BMW iDrive Really Sucks”. Since then, I’ve received a firmware update to the iDrive system when I took the car in for a failed fuel pump service.

While a few things have been improved since the update (ie. Phone number and street address of POIs are finally available, improved bluetooth connection, etc.), I am still not pleased with my user experience. The straw that broke the camel’s back is this trip I am currently on driving from NYC to Mystic, Connecticut. The iDrive made me missed a few important turns and got me so mad that I’ve decided to write another complaint session while I am on my vacation.

The problem I continue to have with the iDrive is its slowness and poor visual UI design. While these problems impact every aspect of the iDrive (Radio, CD, System Menu), the iDrive’s slowness in responding to my GPS commands or changing traffic condition continues to make my driving experience very distasteful. There are so many times where I have followed iDrive’s GPS instruction into a turn but I need to make another choice of move(s) immediately (ie. a fork or on ramp), the iDrive is still displaying a turn instruction from its previous step. This usually leaves me in a state of panic and abruptly making a choice before the system can react. Of course, right after I make that choice, the system will display the right instruction seconds too late.

So I have been thinking, what can BMW engineers do to improve this situation? Well… beyond stepping up the hardware specs to improve speed and response time, they can improve the visual UI design of the instruction window (right side of the LCD Screen) in the following area:

1. Give the option to see as little as three (3) steps of upcoming traffic instructions otherwise known as “list view”. Currently, only one (1) next move is displayed; with so many situations where two or more turns are required back to back, this can be very helpful. If we have the option of previewing at least three moves ahead, even if the system is delayed to update the next move, I can still read in advance enhancing my driving experience.

2. Give a better visual display of arrows and roadways. iDrive has the most basic monochromatic graphics, usually involving a basic drawing of a curve/line and arrow of the direction you need to turn on top. I’ve seen OEM systems (ie. Honda/Acura) give colorful 3D arrows overlaying real-life like drawings of a fork, onramp or lanes giving the driver more confidence before engaging in the next move. This is something one aftermarket GPS company is famous for; Navigon's Reality View goes as far as drawing out the 3D roadways and show you which lane to go or what the exit looks like and how you should exit.

3. Simplify the roadway name on screen. If the instruction is for me is to take the GW Bridge, then only display that on the screen. iDrive is currently displaying the entire but incomplete/acronym(s) road sign description on screen, See first image above: I95/Triboro Br/Geo Washington Br. While I understand iDrive’s logic in pulling the entire data feed of each freeway road sign, it makes it very difficult/dangerous to take my eyes off the road to read and decipher through all of the text sequence. In the end, I just need to know I need to look for George Washingon Br..

I find myself continuously frustrated with my experience using the iDrive. My view of the system has not changed since my original post. I find it difficult to document my experience in writing as so much of the interaction takes place on the road, but the general census is that it is just a cumbersome design. I hope future firmware updates can offer more improvement. Until then, I may just rely on my Nokia N95 w/ integrated GPS and Google Maps to get me back to NYC.

(On my way back while driving southbound on the West Coast Highway, the instruction window doesn't even bother to display the road name I need to turn. Another marvelous surprise from the iDrive)


Anonymous said...

It's a very intelligent system. If you were a little sharper, then you would understand. Switch the iDrive over to the left and select arrow display. This makes it a lot easier to understand the directions. The arrow display tells you exactly where and when you're going to turn. You also probably need to update your Nav disk.

Anonymous said...

I have a 2008 5-Series and I want to chunk the car!! WHAT A POS!! I was on a trip to Disney IN FLORIDA and the silly system couldnt even get me there! Later I tried to have it find my wife a Target store and the stupid system ended up taking us 8 miles out of the way, when there was one less than a mile away.
The system is extremely disappointing - I most CERTAINLY will not be buying another BMW with this crap installed. I can't wait to get rid of this car.

Anonymous said...

I have a BMW 745. I can tell you that here in Denmark the I-Drive system is also much too slow. I have no idea how this system could pass up in a high-tech car like my bmw 745.

Anonymous said...

I already disliked my iDrive just from using it. But then I bought a $249 TomTom for another car of mine. I *really* dislike my iDrive now that I know what I am missing by comparison. e.g. TomTom shows so much info in its display: speed limit of current road, current speed (in red if I'm >5mph over the limit), time till destination, miles till destination, arrival time, miles till next turn, street names as I pass them, and much better graphics.

Anonymous said...

groan.. as a software professional with a user interface background I assumed I could handle the idrive.

what a trainwreck of an interface. It could be so much better.

Software should be intuitively obvious to the occasional user. Not Idrive.

PS my prior car, a lexus LS was so simple. I was warned but didnt heed.

Software must be easier to use than not to use or people wont use it.

Idrive needs a UI refresh. (and a touch screen woudl be nice)

And the processor is too slow.. seems like it isnt responding.

go ahead... tell me if I was smarter I would love it.

Mark said...

I have a 2007 750i and I hate, hate, hate that worthless piece of crap nav system. It is the worst!! and most frustrating, antiquated, poorly designed mess of garbage in the world.
How in the world did such a mess of design make it into production? Did anyone at BMW ever try to use this stupid thing and finally just say "this doesn't work...".
I'm angry.
The only thing worse than this illogical trash is the poor customer service you receive from the $200. per year concierge subscription. The database is so out of date that they don't have addresses for businesses that have been in their locations for several years, the 'packet' doesn't download, the reps do not know how to tell you to use your device to get the address into the system.
BMW should be humiliated and embarrassed that they have such a miserable pile of crap in an otherwise great vehicle.
I will probably NOT purchase another ( my 4th )BMW. This iDrive and navigation has allowed me to venture into the BMW customer service system only to find out how incompetent and unresponsive they are.
I'm not spending any more money with a company that operates like BMW. Done and OUT.

Anonymous said...

You idiots. This has nothing to do with iDrive, it's the navigator map that sucks. iDrive is just the system it runs on. That's like saying cd-players suck because you don't like the new Britney Spears album.

Anonymous said...


I'm not an idiot. I'm a undergraduate writing a dissertation on failures in human-computer interaction, and iDrive is my current case study.

Did the most recent "anonymous" not read the post by the software engineer with the interface background? The problem is not just with the nav system, it is with the entire interface, which manages to be vague and fussy at the same time. It is frustrating, the learning curve is too steep for anyone who isn't particularly IT savvy (funny that BMW still gives the option to control all the basic stuff manually if iDrive's so great, isn't it? Why would they need to do that if it worked like they mean it to? People simply wouldn't need that option) and the interface is hopeless. The whole thing is too distracting, which is why in some markets it is forced by law to carry a warning that it should not be used while driving. I'm sorry, I can't help but quote "Top Gear" here - it is "ambitious, but rubbish".

And yes, a touch screen would make all the difference. It looks like it should have one - big, chunky buttons that could easily go straight to menus without having to fiddle around with that shuttle thing.

andy said...

I am finally at a point where I have to take my car in for its first maintainence service, hopefully there will be another iDrive update with some improvements.

Regarding to the guy that thinks its just the Navi map that sucks, you are wrong. The whole system is slow, cumbersome and bad design. Ever tried using the communications menu while searching through a name on your phone via bluetooth? Very sloooow. (Oct, 2008)

Anonymous said...

I quote from above: "It is frustrating, the learning curve is too steep for anyone who isn't particularly IT savvy ". Well, if that is true, then I guess the world is really full of morons. If you can't master something as simple as the iDrive, then you guys belong in the 19th century: horse and cart is just your thing.

Anonymous said...

We have a 2008 Prius and a 2008 335i. The Toyota system is fast, intuitive, and extremely useful. The BMW's idrive is none of these. We don't use the nav in the BMW it's that bad. Compared the toyota system, the idrive is a waste of money. I feel totally ripped off everytime I look at it.

Alexandre switzerland said...

Hi folks

I understand you all, but have someone used the iDrive 2009 ? (4th generation I think)
I'm going to take a BMW X6 and the 2009's modeles will be featured with the iDrive 2009.
Do you think all this problems will be solved ?

Anonymous said...

As someone who has never had or played with any sort of navigation to compare it to, I haven't found i-drive too off-putting (4 days with a 2008 335i). Once I got most of my shortcuts set up and played around with it a bit, it was pretty darn easy to navigate through 80% of it. The other 20% I likely would hardly ever touch anyway. I've used the navigation twice to find specific addresses, with no complaints, and the traffic notices seem to be right in line with the traffic I'm driving in. I have been frustrated with the lack of a 'back' button sometimes when I've done something I didn't want to do. Other than that, it seems to serve its purpose.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I am working on speech interface development and have a question.
Do you think the problems of iDrive, which most of you seem to think a better visual UI or touch screen may solve, can be solved by a smart conversational speech interface?
For example, you can ask "what is the street name where I need to turn next?" then it answers "you need to turn right on 000 blvd, XX miles away" and shows the map screen of the point, and switching map screen timely.

What do you think?

Matt said...

1) The reason 'all the basic stuff' can still be controlled separately is because you can order the car without iDrive. In my taste, the combination is just right.

2) People, a navigation system is not a brain replacement. Why should it tell you the speed limit of the road you're on? Limits tend to change, I can already hear you arguing with the cops: "But the navi told me it was 70 here!" and then continue the BMW bashing. Observe road signs, they're there for a reason!

3) The navi couldn't give you directions to a certain store? Jeeeez, they come and go even quicker than those speed limit changes!

4) Navigation options can be configured. Take a route you know by heart and fiddle with the options untill it shows the way you usually take. Once that's done, it has always directed me down roads I probably would have taken intuitively anyways. This is far superior than the crap I've seen in VW, Audi, or even the Merc E350 I had last week. That one, btw, gave me lane directions, which I found far too distracting. As an avid TMC fan I don't care for handheld devices, TMC just doesn't work with those tiny built-in antennas.

5) My 2008 320 convertible has 8 buttons to store iDrive favorites, i.e. the way home on 1, grandma's house on 2, fave station on 3, climate setting that makes your gf feel just right on 4, office phone number on 5 and so on... Can it get any better?

The only thing that sucks is the radio's handling of dynamic RDS (which is not permitted according to the RDS standard, but a lot of stations here in Europe don't care for that). But at least there's no delay when changing the station, in contrast to the artificial 2 seconds Mercedes has introduced... Why would anyone do that?

All in all, I think iDrive is a great invention, though a bit slow in the CCC versions (prior mid 2008), but that's a thing of the past with the recent CIC (post mid 2008). Beats the heck out of having 100 buttons all over the place.

andy said...

Matt has raised some interesting points. I've recently visited a BMW dealership to look at my options as my lease of the 2008 335i is about due. Looks like a vast improvement in the latest iDrive so I am now deciding if that option is now worth consideration...

Anonymous said...

I just purchased 2009 335i with the Nav system. My wife and I went on a trip to Porland and found the Nav system adequate while on major interstates. In downtown Portland it absolutely sucked. We were told to turn onto streets which were one-ways going the WRONG way! This happened multiple times. In addition upcoming turns are given in feet, ie 700 feet until the next turn, it does not tell you what the name of the street is your supposed to turn on. I do like the idrive however, but when it comes to the Nav I will get out my trusty garmim!

Anonymous said...

My '09 X5 4.8 has been mostly a complete hassle. Not set up properly on delivery, software that never gets installed trouble free, mysterious changes on the idrive, runflat tires on an SUV (even if they call it SAV; $300 each tire and can't be repaired; to be safe, I had to buy a spare tire and wheel and even a jack), several commands needed to do simple things like change radio tones and you MUST be watching the screen while driving 70 mph. Makes phone texting seem simple and safe by comparison. Owners manual TOO THICK and not well indexed. Nav a joke by today's standards, just not intuitive--just as the whole idrive in not intuitive. If you make a mistake on an idrive command, in most cases it is not clear how to do a simple "back"; so you end up starting over and hope you don't crash. The whole computer/idrive/software is not a pleasure unless you are a software geek or masochist. Sticker price almost $70K; value???? Should have got a Lexus, Mercedes, or maybe a Subaru or Kia or skate board. Maybe because it is assembled in US? I hope that is not the basic problem. 360hp X5 slower than BMW 300hp straight 6 turbo. Why not the turbo engine on their X cars? BMW management needs a complete tuneup. Too bad.

Does get 20+ MPG on interstate, but...overall a bad experience, waste of time in shop, daily frustration and very poor investment.

Anonymous said...

I leased a 2010 528i in dec 2010. they paired the 8330 curve and obviously that bb isnt compatable since then they have removed it from bluetooth from the phone, idrive and TCU but after checking time and time again for faults none show. my idrive screen randomly blacks out for a second...of course I can duplicate it when I take it to the dealership. I HATE the idrive, it has been a mess since I got the car and will never buy another bmw. I also have constant static that comes from the amp thru all speakers, they said that is on all 2010 BMWs without NAV.

Anonymous said...

I have just bought a 2nd hand 2008 X5. The idrive is a nightmare, especially trying to use the nav system. I had to attend a funeral last week and the thing just re booted as I was trying to get through a complicated set of round abouts! Then afterwards I couldn't get it to find a Street Name that just wasn't listed in that locality! Garmin sat nav was much more intuitive and simple to use.

Jiaxi said...

I bought a new BMW 528i with xDrive. Only just over a month, the new BMW is almost dead: the i-Drive system has stopped working - no navigation, no radio, no telephone, nothing; the big screen turned to black, and even the display on the dashboard came on and off with random stuff; all the controls ran erratically: the speedometer went up to 260 when the actual speed of the car was only around 50, and the wipers came on by itself and couldn’t even be stopped. This is my worst experience with cars.

The car can still drive. But with no reliable meter readings I am not sure it is still safe to drive. Does anyone have similar experience with BMW vehicles? I will never buy a BMW, and will not recommend it to anybody.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how anyone can lease a 2010 528i in dec 2010. If this is possible, then they must have a time machine and probably don't need a car anyway since you'd be able to navigate time/space.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt the intelligence of the system. I doubt the implementation of both the hardware and software. Do you know that you cannot program alternate HD radio stations on the same channel? It always defaults to either the HD1 version of the FM version. The only way to get to the HD2 channel is to manually change it. As an owner of a 2008 750i, who also happens to be a user experience designer, I am constantly reminded of how poorly designed the iDrive system is on my daily commute to work. I won't buy another BMW until they trash Becker's QNS operating system and build something that's actually useable. Ever heard of linux guys?

Viagra Online said...

I had one of this divice, one day after my work day, I back to my home, I remember in that time a new highway was open so I don't knew the road, in that moment I turn on my GPS and guess what? it lost me.

Anonymous said...

Too many folks making excuses for BMW's lousy product. The system has slow hardware and crappy logic. Let's face it, the German engineers are good at designing engines and suspensions, but cannot do electronics worth crap. BMW could have gotten a better i-drive by hiring six people picked at random off the sidewalk in Palo Alto.

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Anonymous said...

I am a Soldier currently deployed to Iraq and I am in the Market for a Used 745I or 750I 2004 to 2007 range when I return home.I am juggling between a 7 Series, Infinite M35 and a Merc E class all in the same year and price range.I TRULLY love the look of the 7 Series Beemer.. After reading all the negative posts would it be more of a headache buying this vehicle as a USED luxury car?

Nathan said...

Your right for a 35K plus luxury vehicle the iDrive/GPS system is extremely primitive and disappointing. In fact my 2006 330ci GPS outperforms the newer 2007-2008 models which by the way are disappointing on every level. However, you compare a manufacture who all they do is develop GPS systems, vs a car manufacture. They will never match. The new hard drive driven systems on the 2009 and up are much better by a long shot. They (BMW) finally started to get the picture. Let’s just hope these cars starting looking and feeling more like luxury vehicles.

Nathan said...

I forgot to mention. You also have to keep in mind that BMW only designs the hardware specifications and UI interfaces, which are developed by third parties, that interact with the GPS data (also developed by a third party). Any misguidance is because the actual GPS data is outdated or there is a mistake in the data. However, the slowness is BMW and they should have known better. They cheeped out on that aspect along with everything else in the car.

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pharmacyescrow said...

I think this is a better system because it provides us new arrows and directions something that will be really helpful.

Anonymous said...

jesus h christ, in the UK we expect Americans to be STUPID, but this is hysterical! FFS - PLEASE stop buying stupidly big cars, you are all to thick to be allowed to drive, let alone try to get iDrive to work while you're doing it. idiots.

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