BMW has announced that it will begin offering live activation of optional features as part of its new 7 operating system, with some features available for free trial or subscription. The operating system 7, which debuted with the 2021 5 series, will be available on most recent BMW models as part of a software update. It also includes a wide range of data and connectivity updates, but it’s not without controversy.
BMW freely admits that many of its new vehicles are equipped with the necessary equipment for optional extras such as adaptive cruise control, adaptive M suspension and high beam assistance. Checking the box on the order sheet for these features simply adds the coding needed to run them, rather than modifying the vehicle hardware. In its official operating system 7 announcement, BMW representatives hinted that additional functionality could be added to this live activation configuration – seat heating and cooling, automatic climate control, electric memory seats and remote start could be on this list.
The company has developed a potential use case for enabling live functionality. The owner of an all-new 4 Series coupe may decide not to order adaptive cruise control or ventilated seats when purchased, but after living with the car in an urban environment crowded with the heat of the been, she decides she would like to try these features.
She can order a free one-month trial, and if she likes optional extras, she can buy a one- or three-year subscription. When his time with the car is over and she sells it to her next owner, he may have different priorities. He can then subscribe to a particular set of features that better meet his needs. We like the idea that we can pay a little less at the dealership, then decide later that certain features deserve an option.
Of course, the part that makes us raise our eyebrows is that if the hardware is already there, demanding that customers pay monthly, yearly or periodic fees to keep it activated looks like money. BMW has already learned the lesson that customers don’t want to pay for the features when they sign the dotted line and then continue to pay for the privilege of using them.
This is why the company has announced that it will suspend its annual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fee schedule, instead offering smartphone integration as a “lifetime” subscription with a single charge. Hopefully BMW will follow its own example by allowing customers to activate the feature once and then access it forever (or at least as long as they own the car).