BMW i8 and Apple Watch connectivity review. How does it work?

Smartwatch app technology provides a glimpse of things to come in the wider car industry

The more time you spend with the BMW i8, the more you realise just how exciting an ownership experience it is for the lucky few. No, the car isn’t up there with the true greats in dynamic terms, but as a £104,540 package it’s an incredible thing for the money.

The i8 boasts a complex petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, a carbonfibre construction, concept-car looks, a class-leading infotainment system and – vital for people like us – a fun driving experience to boot.

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The latest addition to the i8 is Apple Watch connectivity. BMW had already developed a smartphone app for the i8, which was available at the car’s launch, but has now taken things a step further, allowing owners to remotely control functions on the car directly from their wrists.

Admittedly, these functions are limited, but you can control the heating system, flash the headlights to find your car in a car park (presumably a car park full of other i8s…) or, should you so desire, show your i8’s location on a map.

Sadly, the smartphone app’s ability to unlock the car remotely hasn’t been added to the Watch app, meaning you won’t be able to replace your car keys with a neat device on your wrist.

The smartphone app takes things a step further, allowing you to share your ‘eco stats’ with the rest of the i8 community and see who has been doing the most boring driving.

What both the Apple Watch and the smartphone app can do is show you a basic overview of your particular i8, complete with a colour-matched version of your car on the device’s screen. Battery charge, fuel levels and remaining range are displayed, and the smartphone app can even build a navigation route based on these figures and then deliver it to the i8’s iDrive system before you have stepped into the car.

As is generally the way with any device-led technology, the i8’s connectivity is hampered by that bugbear of the 21st century: mobile phone reception. Sometimes sending data from your phone or Apple Watch to the i8 can take more than a few minutes. This is problematic if you intend on using your phone (rather than the set of keys you left at home) to unlock the car.

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What BMW must be praised for is the precedent it has set with the i8’s user interface and connectivity. Unlike some competitors’ efforts, nearly everything that is included is genuinely useful, easy to control and laid out in such a clear and obvious manner that even the least tech-savvy owner would be able to get their head around it. We just wish there was a little more functionality.

Data connectivity is certainly the next step for infotainment systems. Jeep learned a lesson about security recently when one of its cars was remotely hacked (for demonstration purposes) and then controlled, eventually causing it to crash. But done right, connectivity could improve an ownership experience.

Tesla already remotely updates its cars, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The i8 hints at a future where a smartphone or watch app would be all owners needed to interact with their cars.

Imagine, once automation really takes off, sending your electric or hybrid car to charge itself before you have even got into it, all via a small screen on your wrist. For some, apps are the most powerful way of interacting with the rest of the world. Cars simply seem to be the next thing on Apple’s ‘to do’ list.

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