BMW Aftermarket Apple CarPlay 1 Year Review

Hey guys and welcome back to the SimpleCarGuy channel. About 9 months ago I posted a video where I installed an aftermarket Apple CarPlay and Android Auto module in my 2014 BMW 550i. Since then, I have answered many questions in the comments, emails and on my Instagram, but it seems that I’m answering the same questions over and over again and now that I have used it for many months, I figured I’d put it all in one place. So, in this video, I will talk about the Pros and Cons, missing functionality, extra features, compatibility and answer all of your questions as well.

I’m making this video so that you can make an informed decision and not waste your money, so hit that like button if you like the video and leave your comments down below with any additional questions.

When I first installed this aftermarket Apple CarPlay on my BMW, I got lots of people asking about the quality and all of the features. Of course, at that time I have only used the system for a day or two and couldn’t give all the answers, but now I’m ready to tackle this one.

The most common concern for people was whether it would fit their specific year and model car. Well, to answer this, you have to understand BMW’s iDrive systems a little bit. The earliest system you can install Apple CarPlay using this method and without replacing parts is the iDrive CCC which came out on some BMWs in as early as 2004 model year. This system was in use until about 2010 model years on some cars. So, if your car has THIS screen, you need CCC version of the device.

The next system was Car Information Computer or CiC and it looked like THIS. If your screen looks like this, you will need an aftermarket unit made for CiC iDrive. You cannot interchange these unless the unit you get is made to work with different versions. This iDrive version was on BMWs between 2009 and 2014. I will post a list of different models in the description or comments for your reference.

BMW introduced a further update to the iDrive System in early 2012 and called it the NextBestThing also known as the NBT, which is what I have in my car and what I showed in the video. This is for 2013-2018 model years, but once again, it varies depending on the model. As an example, on the BMW 5 series F10, it’s from 2014-2016 model years.

The last system you can update using this method is the iDrive NBT EVO which of course replaced the original NBT iDrive system and is still being used on many models today and it looks like THIS.

I hope it clears up some of the questions as to what unit you need for your car. Please do your research, refer to the list I the description and make sure you understand which iDrive you have before you order. If you are more adventurous, you can also remove the screen in the car and take a look at the connector on the back. On F10 5 series, if the connector has 4 pins, it’s the CiC version and if it has 6 pins, it’s the NBT system. If you are having trouble with this, leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best to help you.

Alright, so you know which unit you need, but you have some questions. Let’s see if we can clear some of those questions up.

I know my biggest concern before installing this unit was how fast and how accurately it would connect to my phone. Well, it connects perfectly about 98% of the time. What do I mean by that? Well, if you don’t have your Bluetooth or WiFi on on your phone, it will sometimes connect half way and you are just stuck at THIS screen (show screen). You then would have to manually connect to the correct system in Bluetooth or WiFi Settings. Now, that’s not the only way it can mess up the connection. I have had times where it just refused to connect and I had to restart the unit by holding the back button for 3 seconds. This has happened about 10 times in the 9 months I’ve been using this. That’s actually a very small number in my opinion and I’ve been very happy with how fast and reliable it has been overall.

My second biggest concern installing an aftermarket Apple CarPlay unit was audio quality. Most BMWs have a wonderfully balanced and great sounding system, so I was worried it would ruin the experience. Once again, it’s not perfect by any means. It sounds great at almost any sound level, but as soon as you turn it up past a certain point, there is a hissing noise that becomes very apparent. Of course, the volume has to be very loud at this point and there has to be a silent moment in whatever you are listening to. I think this is my main concern, but not a deal breaker since it’s only at very high levels. To reduce this as much as possible, go to the settings and make sure your volume is set to the max.

Now let’s do some rapid fire questions and then finish the video with my final thoughts.

We have already answered what cars it can be installed in and the different options, but does it use the original camera or do you have to get an aftermarket one? You can switch between Aftermarket and Original in the settings. So, if your car doesn’t have one, you can install an aftermarket one and use it.

How does the camera work when you are using CarPlay? It quickly switches back to the OEM system and it works as normal, including the curving lines and sensors.

Nice, right? So, what about the radio? This device does NOT have a radio built in and you cannot mix the two audio sources together. The best solution for using Google Maps and listening to the radio at the same that I found was to play the radio station you want, or save it on one of the memory buttons, go to Apple CarPlay, but do not switch the audio source to AUX and use it without any sound.

Speaking of switching back and forth, how easy is it to switch between the systems? This system starts up when you unlock the car and the phone connects automatically, so to switch back to the BMW system, you just have to hold the BACK button for 3 seconds. This as far as I understand shuts down the unit, so when you hold BACK again for 3 seconds, it starts up again and your phone reconnects. There is no sleep mode type of function.

Cool, so we can switch between systems, but does it use the original BMW microphones or do you have to wire the one that came with the unit? Luckily, the answer on this one is YES, it does use the original microphones in the car. If your car didn’t have one or it’s broken, you can use the one that came with it as well, but you’ll have to route it the proper position. These are used for both Siri commands as well as voice calls.

Speaking of voice calls, how is the sound quality? The quality coming in sounds absolutely perfect; however, I have had a complaint from someone on the other line saying that I sounded like I’m on speaker, so I went and played with the options. Enabling this feature made it sound much better in my car, but I think it depends on your car set up. It still does not sound as good as original BMW as echo does happen on some occasions. Overall, it’s pretty good, but not amazing. Luckily, there is an option to allow phone calls to be handled by the original BMW system.

What about playing music, how is that experience? When used wirelessly, there is a slight delay in audio. Of course, this isn’t a problem if you are listening to music, but can be noticeable when watching a video. It also isn’t nearly as bad as it is on the original BMW Bluetooth audio. This problem can be easily fixed by plugging in the phone via USB. You can also use AirPlay, which is wireless and has no delay whatsoever. It clones everything on your phone to the screen, including videos, movies, apps etc. One feature I miss from the original system is volume based on your speed. The volume does not adjust automatically as you go faster or slower.

Now let’s talk a little bit on how well it integrates into the car. The iDrive controller and buttons around it works as you would expect. All of the buttons on the steering wheel work great as well and you can even use the little scroll wheel here on the steering wheel as the secondary controller. I use this most of all as I can keep my hands on the wheel and perform most of the functions.

One item that I wish would have been integrated is the Heads-Up-Display. While it still displays your speed and other BMW items, it does not show any music or navigation information. So, if you rely on the arrows and instructions being up on your windshield while using GPS, this might not be for you. I did a little bit of research on this and it looks like this display is basically ran by a different computer/module and since this device is just sitting between the head unit and the display, it cannot control it.

The last item is more related to Apple CarPlay in general. I’ve had a few questions on what apps are available and can you install stuff like Netflix or YouTube? Apple CarPlay allows you to basically install only Navigation and Audio related apps. So, you can have Google or Apple Maps and Waze for your navigation. Spotify, Apple Music or even radio apps like the TuneIn radio or iHeartradio for audio and even podcast and audio book apps. Besides those, WhatsApp and standard messaging apps are available, but mostly only work through Siri. You cannot type in a message directly as an example. There are of course some other ones, like the SpotHero app to find and pay for parking or PlugShare to find local charging stations if you have an electric car.

Well guys, this video turned out much longer than I expected, but I really wanted to answer as many common questions as possible and make the decisions easier for you. So, what do I think of it and would I do it again? Well, this may not be as good as an OEM installation of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it damn sure is 10 times better and easier to use than the original BMW navigation and media player. I also love that my fiancé can easily use her phone with the car without an hour set up.