Test BMW OS8: Infotainment system relies on the cloud

The big leap in version suggests that Munich’s engineers have now turned everything inside out and made everything new. Fortunately, this is not the case, because the path taken with the OS7 has so far proven itself quite well, both with customers and with the infrastructure operator BMW. So it sticks to the previous virtues, with a continued focus on the cloud part, which makes the system very flexible.

BMW says nothing concrete about the hardware, only generalities such as “The number of gigahertz and gigabytes of RAM are not the only decisive factor for the performance and future viability of the entire system”. Of course, as a manufacturer with a good cloud side, you don’t want to be evaluated based on the user-side hardware, but that doesn’t change anything about the fundamental advantages and disadvantages of computing power in the car. Disadvantages: It costs money and is often not even necessary, see also Google’s forays into telematics with comparatively minimal onboard hardware.

Pros: Hardware performance in the car is, well: in the car. If the tunnel comes or the driver even drives through a network coverage third world country like the Federal Republic of Germany, that can make a big difference in computing-intensive applications such as speech recognition and synthesis. After all, every company encounters the WordPress phenomenon: Buying powerful hardware almost always costs less than writing efficient software these days.

Like other manufacturers, BMW also makes the transition between cloud responses and onboard responses transparent for users, so they don’t notice anything directly. You only notice indirectly from the quality of the answers what the network coverage might look like. In practice, BMW’s speech recognition works very well, although in my opinion slightly less well than that of the Mercedes competition. The command sequence “Hey, BMW!” or “Hey, Horst!”, because you can rename the assistant yourself, so often goes unheard that in the test I switched to pressing the voice input button in the classic way.

Then the new ball cloud appears as a representation of the voice assistant and it accepts input. The fuzzy logic was sometimes too fuzzy for me. The system often executes ambiguously recognized commands in a misunderstood way. Here I would prefer the system to report a lack of understanding earlier and behave more like Angela Merkel: If you don’t do anything, you at least don’t do anything wrong.

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The standard home screen with navigation map, assistant and trip computer
(Image: Clemens Gleich)

BMW got the succinct (deliberate) pause between input and response from the system from OS7. Again, the voice button helps if that’s annoying you. Overall, the BMW assistant works in practice with sufficient network coverage just as well as the Daimler counterpart, each with its own small idiosyncrasies in the command structures – not surprising, the technology behind it is the same. Differences lie in the offline recognition and in a more human speech synthesis at Mercedes.

In terms of language assistants, the iX could catch up (or overtake) significantly in the next few years without any changes on the user side, because BMW is launching it with a 5G modem right away. Its eSIM can be integrated into the existing Telekom mobile phone contract for EUR 9.95 per month (“MobilityConnect” contract option). For example, you can stream videos via vehicle antenna, internal 5G modem, vehicle router and the existing contract. Vodafone makes a similar offer to its customers under the “One Number Car” option for 5 euros per month. Now only the 5G network expansion has to be better than the previous debacle.

In order to reduce and simplify inputs and save attention, BMW relies even more than before on the context of these inputs. When the vehicle is parked, for example, the screen shows typical next menu items, i.e. charging and air conditioning settings. The voice control remembers the context of the current input so that it correctly processes short answers to queries.

Since route guidance is helpful for so many things in the car, BMW tries to guess the next destination from past behavior, even when route guidance is inactive. The main example of this: the way to work. The occupants know it by heart, so the navigation system is often absent. With OS8, there is then even without route guidance, for example, traffic information or information on a suitable charging option.

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