2012 BMW X3 Long Term Road Test

2012 BMW X3: Beware of Lightning

September 20, 2012

Our 2012 BMW X3 came with the "BMW Apps" feature, a $250 option according to the window sticker. The feature allows you to use some apps from your Apple iPhone and display them on the car's iDrive screen. You can check your Facebook or Twitter status, see upcoming appointments in the calendar, get a news feed, check Wiki Local and listen to Internet radio.

You can access these apps by either plugging in with an iPhone USB cord or by purchasing the "snap in adaptor," which will set you back another $250. The snap-in adaptor has a specific version for the iPhone 3G/3GS and iPhone 4/4S.

But what if you're someone -- like me -- who is about to get an iPhone 5 tomorrow? If I also own a BMW and have plunked down my money for the snap-in adaptor, is it going to work?  Looks like the answer is no.

One of the major changes to the iPhone 5 is the introduction of the "Lightning" connector. It replaces the old 30-pin connector that dates back to the original iPod (2001). This is ancient history in the tech world. The Lightning connector is half the size of the old one and is reversible, meaning you no longer have to look for the square symbol that indicates the top and bottom of the connector.

Sadly, the BMW snap-in adaptor cannot be used with the iPhone 5 because the new iPhone is slightly longer than previous ones. If you somehow managed to squeeze the iPhone 5 into the adaptor, it still wouldn't work, thanks to the new connector.

Apple is selling a $30 adaptor that will restore functionality to many accessories that used the old connector. But some features of the BMW Apps aren't compatible with the Lighting connector, even if you have the Apple adaptor, according to Wired's Autopia Blog.

Perhaps BMW will make a new snap-in adaptor that will let owners use the iPhone 5, but when you're ready to get an iPhone 6 or 7, you're facing a similar issue.

Our X3 has the BMW Apps, but not the snap-in adaptor. When my new phone arrives, I will test it out and report back on what we find.

This highlights the problem with smartphone-car compatibility. People change phones about every two years, but we keep our cars much longer. Things that may have seemed high tech and worked well together a few years ago can be quickly rendered obsolete and incompatible.

Do any of you BMW owners have the snap-in adaptors? Are you getting an iPhone 5?

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 16,527 miles

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