BMW is officially going to start charging owners an annual subscription fee to use Apple CarPlay in their vehicles, the automaker confirmed this week.
Customers will pay $80 per year to access CarPlay in their vehicles or buyers can purchase a “lifetime” subscription to CarPlay — which lasts for 20 years — for an upfront, $300 premium.
Buyers of new 2019 BMW models will get one year of CarPlay for free. But after that year is up, they’ll also have to pay out roughly $6.67 a month to access the Apple-syncing infotainment system.
The change, which BMW first announced way back in early 2018, makes the carmaker the first to turn CarPlay into an additional subscription-based add-on.
Many car manufacturers offer CarPlay as a free and standard feature in some models and trims, including many vehicles that are a lot cheaper than BMWs. Others offer CarPlay as an optional add-on requiring a one-time fee during purchase (as BMW did previously). No one else charges customers an annual recurring fee.
As you might expect, many BMW owners and potential buyers aren’t happy about the change.
That may be especially true since BMW’s reasoning for the move doesn’t make a lot of sense. A BMW spokesperson told The Verge in 2018 that the move will “allow” users to switch to a different type of smartphone without worrying about having a non-compatible syncing feature in their car.
The automaker also says the new subscription model will help bring down the cost of its vehicles. But if BMW had just raised the price of its cars by $300, it’s likely that no one would have noticed.
Apple CarPlay is currently available on any BMW model with built-in navigation. That also means that BMW isn’t needing to add any additional hardware to get CarPlay to work. (Although it did take a while for BMW to even add CarPlay as an option.)
BMW is also going to add Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support to models this year, but it isn’t clear if those platforms will also require an annual subscription. The automaker doesn’t currently support Android Auto, but it stands to reason that they may charge an annual fee to access that platform once they do.
Similarly, it’s unclear how Apple feels about this since CarPlay is its own technology.
CarPlay is increasingly a must-have feature for car buyers — eight out of 10 Americans told Strategy Analytics that they want the feature in their next vehicle. The American Auto Association also says that CarPlay and Android Auto are safer and less distracting than the built-in OEM infotainment systems.
Of course, if you have the cash to buy a new BMW, chances are that $300 isn’t going to break the bank for you. But the change to a subscription model doesn’t really seem like it’s worth the negative press for the automaker.