Your guide to the ins and outs of BMW software updates

10 min reading time
You know how to update the software on your phone, your laptop, your watch – and most likely pretty much every other digital device in your life. But what about the software in your BMW? Keeping your car’s software up-to-date can be done with the tap of a finger – but how exactly does it work? Read on to learn all you need to know about BMW’s Remote Software Upgrade – and why it might mean more to you than you think…

20 October 2020

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You’re likely familiar with the scenario: a quick glance at your phone and a notification reveals that a new software update is available. A few taps and swipes, and in a matter of seconds you’re well underway to giving your device a much-needed facelift. Maybe you’re just getting a few bugs fixed, or maybe you’re looking at new features altogether. No matter what, keeping up to date with the latest software releases has become an easy everyday task for most of us, as more and more digital devices find their way into our lives.

As we move towards a more interconnected, and above all more digital mobile reality, software is becoming an everyday part of car ownership. By now, over-the-air (OTA) software updates have become a regular feature for many modern carmakers, enabling them to fix, modify and even improve vehicles through various remote software update setups.

But what exactly does this mean? What is possible, and why does it matter? The answers, as is often the case when talking about the benefits of modern tech, are manyfold.

Generally speaking, a modern vehicle that comes fresh out of the factory will today be extensively powered by high performance computers and small control units. Long gone are the days when a car was an entirely mechanical creation. These computing units in turn can be divided into two main categories; those that control infotainment systems and features like navigation assistants – and the more critical drive control units that control, measure and regulate basic driving functionalities like steering and braking. Common to both, however, is that today they are integral, digitized components of modern car design and production standards. This, in turn, allows for continuous upgrading by carmakers, who invest increasingly in software development, cloud and server infrastructure and implementation setups. 

This has widespread implications for both drivers and carmakers alike. For drivers, OTA software updates can mean that they will have a chance to maintain or fix vehicle software from the comfort of their own home, or any other place of their choice — potentially saving them costs and valuable time. This is because today many features can in fact be managed digitally through these control units, which are in turn accessible by the carmaker remotely through a simple WiFi connection. Additionally, the prospect of seamlessly adding new features and functionalities to a vehicle may also reduce its depreciation over time, as some features could be seen as adding value to the vehicle.

For carmakers there are obvious benefits, too. Recalls could be avoided if the necessary fix can be handled remotely through an easy software update. Offering new features such as on-demand services to drivers can also create new revenue streams – and help car makers position themselves closer to the connected everyday lives of their drivers.

And in the end, this may be the biggest asset of all. As human beings and drivers, we increasingly see digitalization as a given, and there is hardly an aspect of our daily routine that isn’t powered by software. The connected lifestyle this facilitates is something we still enthusiastically debate, and of which we still have to learn the full consequences. But for both drivers and carmakers, this software-driven reality offers brand new ways of understanding and using our cars, and therefore the relationship between both. In other words, the opportunity to tweak, improve and fix vehicles through OTA updates creates a new ownership dynamic and paves the way for a customer relationship that essentially never ends, to the benefits of both.

Ready to roll with BMW software updates

Of course, BMW is no different. In fact, since 2018, with the introduction of BMW Operating System 7, BMW has slowly but surely been ramping up its efforts to continuously review and improve the millions of lines of code that make up your vehicle’s central nervous system. Today, BMW drivers all over the world can also effortlessly upgrade their BMW Operating System over-the-air by using the Remote Software Upgrade function.

The roll-out of the latest available BMW software started in spring 2020, reaching more than half a million BMW owners. The campaign was kicked off in Germany, and is set to reach the rest of the world over the course of this summer. As for the next upgrade, this too is well underway, with the roll-out kicking off in autumn and reaching considerably more BMWs that have already hit the road.

“What many people perhaps don’t think about,” says Jochen Kurbjuweit, BMW Senior Manager Remote Software Upgrade, “is that our cars today have 50 to 60 computing units, including quite a few high-performance computers, that control, regulate and measure everything from the navigation system to the steering wheel. It’s a complex system of various vehicle functionalities, which naturally benefit from constant improvements to keep the car fresh and up-to-date. This is where the over-the-air upgrade function comes into play – it allows us to offer these improvements as seamlessly as possible – just as if you were updating any other device that you know and use.”

Our cars today have 50 to 60 computing units, including some high-performance computers, that regulate and measure everything from the navigation system to the steering wheel. It’s a complex system of various vehicle functionalities, which naturally benefit from constant improvements to keep the car fresh and up-to-date.
Jochen Kurbjuweit

BMW Senior Manager Remote Software Update

Mobility in its most modern outfit

So, why does all this matter – apart from the tangible, practical benefits of keeping your BMW fresh and in digital shape? To Kurbjuweit, the answer is straightforward; more than just a practical way of allowing BMW drivers to always get the best out of their vehicles, offering on-demand, over-the-air upgrades is part of a bigger puzzle. Having spent four years on the development of the current Remote Software Upgrade functionality as part of a highly committed team of IT and engineering experts, he sees it as a tell-tale sign of how mobility is changing for good.

“Software and the ongoing maintenance of code,” he says, “has become a staple of modern life. We are used to software being everywhere we look and we try to take care of it like other important aspects of everyday living.”

Software and the ongoing maintenance of code has become a staple of modern life. We are used to software being everywhere we look and we try to take care of it like other important aspects of everyday living.
Jochen Kurbjuweit

BMW Senior Manager Remote Software Upgrade

“Mobility in its most modern outfit,” he continues, “is equally integral to how we live today. So, to me the intertwinement of the two is natural, as well as it is needed.”

To BMW, he says, the Remote Software Upgrade program is a natural reply to the new challenges of the era of mobility we all live in. As an approach and way of working, it is deeply embedded in the way BMW works, already in this day and age.

“I can say with a lot of confidence that BMW by now by no means need to look ahead to catch up. With our Remote Software Upgrade function, we are now reaching more drivers across the globe than ever before, and I still have a feeling that we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what will be possible very soon. Some would call this the future of mobility. But to me, we are already very much there.”

Upgrading your BMW software – what you need to know

But how does it all work then? Is it free? How long does it take? And what about my data? Lots of questions – but fear not, we’re here to help…
1.

Why should I upgrade?

Shortly put, there are three main reasons why BMW drivers benefit from the Remote Software Upgrade function:

  • Always fresh:
    In general terms, upgrading your software will make sure that your BMW is always kept up-to-date. Basic functionalities might need a code review and a bug fix every now and then, and data and content will always be on par. Put in other words: upgrading is a form of regular maintenance that will make sure your BMW software is always kept as “new” as possible – a bit like, say, a digital car wash.

  • Security and quality checks:
    Making sure that your vehicle always lives up to current regulatory standards and requirements is paramount for a wholesome and worry-free driving experience. The Remote Software Upgrade function allows for rapid reactions to, for instance, newly introduced regulatory requirements, ensuring that your BMW always lives up to local regulations.

  • Enhancements and new functionalities:
    Remotely upgrading your car will bring the operating system fully up-to-date for free. This includes enhancements for features already onboard, like the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant learning new tricks, or the BMW Parking Assistant learning new maneuvers. Additionally, the vehicles will get entirely new features like the deep integration of third-party apps for streaming services, or the Dangerous Curve Assistant. Finally, the technology behind the Remote Software Upgrade also offers the possibility for customers to purchase and install optional equipment features even after the car was customized and built. Interested in “downloading” the High Beam Assistant or the BMW Drive Recorder? With Remote Software Upgrade, this becomes as easy as installing a new app on your phone, as long as the required hardware has been installed in the vehicle. Bottom line: an upgrade effectively gives you the best conditions possible to continuously improve existing features and install entirely new features altogether.

“There are clear benefits to continuously upgrading your vehicle’s software,” says Kurbjuweit. “But above all, you make sure that everything is up to speed and as ‘new’ as possible, digitally speaking. It makes sure that all functions have the best possible code working behind them. It’s therefore not only a question of digital maintenance – in fact, if you think about it, your car gets even better over time.”

There are clear benefits to continuously upgrading your vehicle’s software. But above all, you make sure that everything is up to speed and as ‘new’ as possible, digitally speaking. It makes sure that all functions have the best possible code working behind them. It’s therefore not only a question of digital maintenance – in fact, if you think about it, your car gets even better over time.
Jochen Kurbjuweit

BMW Senior Manager Remote Software Upgrade

2.

How will I know when an upgrade is available?

Any newly available upgrade packages will be announced directly as a notification on your BMW control display or on your smartphone via the BMW app – just like when other new software is made available to your phone. You decide whether to download the installation files to your phone via a WiFi connection and then later transfer it to the car, or you can just leave it up to your car to take care of automatically downloading the new software while you are driving. Once downloaded, you will be asked for your consent for the vehicle to unpack and install the new software. Your vehicle will then finalize the upgrade.

If you are in doubt whether a new Remote Software Upgrade is available for your vehicle or not, you can also use your BMW Operating System menu to proactively search for any new available upgrades. To access the upgrade menu, follow these steps: 

1) CAR
2) Preferences
3) General Preferences
4) Remote Software Upgrade
5) Search for upgrades
6) Follow the on-screen instructions

3.

What do I need to initiate a Remote Software Upgrade?

The Remote Software Upgrade works entirely over-the-air (OTA). This means that all you need is for your BMW to be connected to the internet via your vehicle’s SIM card, and you’ll be ready to download and install the latest upgrade package. Alternatively, you can also download the latest software upgrade to your phone using the BMW Smartphone App, then use this to complete the upgrade by connecting your phone to your vehicle and following the instructions on your BMW Control Display.

THIS IS HOW IT WORKS

It’s easy to use your BMW Operating System to download and install a new BMW software update package. Simply follow the instructions or use the BMW app to complete your upgrade.
4.

How long does it take?

The size of the average upgrade package is about 800 MB. The exact size however will depend on your model and on upgrade specifics, for example whether or not you are upgrading from the latest software available or from an older version.

Once downloaded (the download time itself will depend on your connection), the full installation and upgrade will only take about 20 minutes. Following the download, your vehicle will unpack the upgrade package before it initiates the actual upgrade. The unpackaging process can be disrupted and resumed without any implications to your BMW’s operating system, and all functions will be running as normal. During the actual upgrade, your vehicle’s operating system will however be incapacitated – a bit like when you install a new operating system on your laptop, for example. After approximately 20 minutes, the upgrade will be finished, and your vehicle will be ready for take-off again.

5.

How can I see if my BMW is compatible with the Remote Software function?

Generally, BMW vehicles equipped with the BMW Live Cockpit Professional and BMW Operating System 7 are compatible with the Remote Software Upgrade function. At the time of writing, this includes:

  • BMW 1 Series

  • BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe

  • BMW 3 Series Limousine

  • BMW 3 Series Touring

  • BMW 4 Series Coupe

  • BMW 5 Series Limousine

  • BMW 5 Series Touring

  • BMW M5

  • BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo 

  • BMW 7 Series Limousine

  • BMW 8 Series Cabriolet

  • BMW 8 Series Coupe

  • BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe

  • BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe M

  • BMW M8

  • BMW X5

  • BMW X5 M

  • BMW X6

  • BMW X6 M

  • BMW X7

  • BMW Z4
  • BMW iX3

However, as traffic, safety and data compliance regulations differ from country to country, upgrade options and offers for individual markets will vary, too. BMW always works 100 percent within the legal framework of all of its local markets, and is committed to local legislation, including local data and traffic safety regulations. For more information on software upgrade releases, model compatibility and availability of specific add-on features, please contact your local BMW dealership.

6.

What about my data?

Driver's privacy and data rights remain a priority to BMW. While the Remote Software Upgrade requires vehicles to communicate directly with BMW servers in order to download an upgrade package, with the exception of the unique vehicle identification number (VIN) needed to identify a vehicle, no user-specific or private data is ever exchanged or stored, and exchanges are always encrypted. In other words: BMW servers will be able to identify and establish connections with individual vehicles to facilitate the over-the-air download and installment of new software packages, but never to access personal data or other sensitive user information.

Author: David Barnwell; Illustrations: Madita O'Sullivan