The system reportedly will work on cars purchased either new or used, with some options available on trial basis.
BMW announced that it would start offering over-the-air activation of optional features as part of its new Operating System 7, with some features available on a free-trial basis or with a subscription. Operating System 7, which debuted alongside the 2021 5 Series, will be available on most late-model BMWs 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 hardware needed for optional extras like adaptive cruise control, adaptive M suspension, and high-beam assistance. Ticking the box on the order sheet for those features merely adds the coding needed to run them, rather than altering the vehicle’s hardware. In its official Operating System 7 announcement, BMW representatives implied that additional features might be added to that over-the-air activation setup – seat heating and cooling, automatic climate control, power seat memory, and remote start might be on that list.
The company drew up a potential use case for over-the-air feature activation. The owner of a brand-new 4 Series coupe might decide against ordering adaptive cruise control or ventilated seats upon purchase, but after living with the car in a traffic-clogged urban environment in the heat of summer, she decides she’d like to try those features out.
She can order a one-month free trial, and if she likes the optional extras, she can purchase either a one- or a three-year subscription. When her time with the car is over and she sells it to its next owner, he might have different priorities. He can then subscribe to a particular set of features that suit his needs better. We like the idea that one could pay a bit less at the dealer, then decide later on that some features might be worth optioning.
Gallery: 2021 BMW 5 Series: Debut
Of course, the part that makes us raise our eyebrows is that if the hardware is already there, demanding that customers pay a monthly, yearly, or periodic fee to keep it activated feels like money-grubbing. BMW learned the lesson already that customers don’t want to pay for features when they sign the dotted line, then continue to pay for the privilege of using them.
That’s why the company announced it would suspend its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto yearly fee schedule, instead offering smartphone integration as a “lifetime” subscription with a one-time charge. Here’s hoping BMW follows its own example by allowing customers to opt in once for the feature in question, then get access to it forever (or at least as long as they own the car).