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BMW | iPhone Bluetooth Audio Issues

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BMW Bluetooth audio issues, such as random disconnects are affecting many users, making it difficult or impossible to stream audio (music) or to make phone calls.

The good news is, you are not alone. The bad news is, there is no fix other than buying a car that has Apple CarPlay.

BMW makes great cars, but they often fail miserably in the technology and infotainment area. I would argue that BMW’s downhill trend started around the time Apple released the iPhone 5 and BMW decided not to make a snap-in adapter. BMW promised it would come, but they still didn’t have one for the iPhone 5(s) when Apple released the iPhone 6 two years later.

Since then, BMW’s support for the iPhone (and potentially other phone models) has gone down the drain. The iPhone X/iPhone XS I own right now was pretty much unusable in our 2016 BMW X4.

A few months ago, we finally returned the X4 and got an Acura MDX with Apple CarPlay. Since then, we have not had a single issue yet with iOS 12!

The only hope is CarPlay, which BMW also dragged its feet to offer. Fortunately, the German carmaker started offering it with its 2017 lineup, for a fee! Yes, you have to pay extra to use your iPhone in a BMW!

BMW Bluetooth Not Working

I have had connectivity issues with both our 2013 X5 and 2016 X4 and various iPhone models, including an iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone X running a variety of iOS versions. While none of my iPhones ever worked flawlessly in any BMW car, I never had any issues with other Bluetooth-connected devices.

As a result, it’s pretty obvious that BMW’s Bluetooth implementation is the culprit and it’s more than embarrassing and infuriating that they have not been able to fix that.

Bluetooth Audio Issues With 2013 BMW X5

BMW Bluetooth Audio Streaming Issues

With my 2013 BMW X5, I ran into a Bluetooth audio issue related to streaming audio via Bluetooth from an iPhone 5s on iOS 7 while the phone was connected via USB. At the time, we had both my wife’s iPhone 5 and my iPhone 5s paired with the car.

It turned out that as soon as I connected my iPhone via the USB port under the armrest, iDrive would disable Bluetooth audio for my iPhone. Of course, unplugging the phone from USB would not turn Bluetooth audio back on. I had to do that manually, every single time I plugged in my iPhone via USB.

You can quickly reproduce the problem by plugging in your phone via USB and navigating to the corresponding setting under Telephone > Bluetooth (phone) > [my iPhone] > Options [Button] > Configure Phone.

BMW Bluetooth audio issues with music streaming from iPhone
Phone settings
Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
Phone connected properly via Bluetooth
Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
Bluetooth configuration
Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
Audio unchecked

If I tried to check “Audio” while my phone was plugged into USB, I got the following error message: “Audio via USB is not supported by Michael’s iPhone 5 with Bluetooth audio activated. Bluetooth audio was deactivated for Michael’s iPhone 5. Please activate USB audio if necessary.”

Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
Bluetooth audio via USB not supported

Of course, activating it was what triggered this error in the first place. So I called BMW Customer Service, but the friendly customer care agent on the phone didn’t have a solution. She mentioned that iOS 7 was just recently released and BMW didn’t have a chance to test it yet. I didn’t want to waste time by explaining to her that Beta versions of iOS 7 have been available for months. Her suggestion was to delete all paired devices and to try again.

I didn’t think repairing everything would make a difference and instead decided to google for a solution. It turned out, I was not the only one with this issue, and someone on one of the BMW forums pointed out that Bluetooth audio is unavailable while the iPhone is connected to the car via USB.

The “Solution” Is Not To Connect Your Phone Via USB

As a result, I refrained from connecting my iPhone via USB, checked Audio in the Bluetooth settings and voilà – no error message and audio streamed flawlessly via Bluetooth.

Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
Phone connected properly via Bluetooth

BMW finally, albeit partially, fixed the problem in their 2016 lineup. With our 2016 X4, I still cannot stream audio via Bluetooth while my phone is connected via USB, but at least the car automatically re-enables Bluetooth audio when I disconnect the phone from USB.

Bluetooth Audio Issues With 2016 BMW X4

When the lease of our 2013 X5 ended, we picked up a 2016 BMW X4, and while it still doesn’t support CarPlay, Bluetooth worked well in the beginning, and most Bluetooth audio issues had been resolved.

Bluetooth and Smartphone Integration

The 2016 BMW X4 has still some minor problems and lacks Apple’s CarPlay technology, but at least BMW appeared to have fixed the following Bluetooth audio issues affecting devices running iOS 7 – 10:

Bluetooth Streaming

You can now reliably stream audio via Bluetooth. When I connect my iPhone via USB, the audio stream almost instantaneously switches to USB. Disconnecting the iPhone from USB switches audio streaming back to Bluetooth.

In the past, Bluetooth streaming got completely disabled upon connecting a phone via USB. Re-enabling it meant digging through the settings, which was a major pain in the butt.

Audio Resumes After Ending a Call

In the past, audio streaming would not continue after completing a call on a connected phone. And since there was no “Play” button on the X5, I had to resume audio streaming directly on the phone. The 2016 BMW X4 automatically continues audio streaming after a call ends.

Multiple Phones

The X5 didn’t handle multiple connected phones very well. In the new model, it’s easy to switch back and forth between two connected phones. That’s helpful when both my wife and I are in the car while both of our iPhones are connected.

Siri

Long-pressing the Voice Command button on the steering wheel triggers Siri. That’s awesome and a welcome enhancement to the driving experience.

Features the 2016 BMW X4 Does Not Support

According to BMW’s Bluetooth Compatibility Check, the following features are not supported in combination with an iPhone 6S Plus:

  • Display contact images
  • All Office features
  • Playing videos

I can live with those limitations!

Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
BMW Bluetooth compatibility list

Useless Snap-in Adapter

BMW still ships an entirely useless phone cradle with certain options like the 6NS ENHANCED TELEPHONY WITH EXTENDED SM. BMW doesn’t sell a snap-in adapter for newer iPhone models such as the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, rendering the cradle useless. You cannot remove the cradle either, and it takes up most of the compartment under the armrest without providing any useful function.

Major Bluetooth audio issues between iPhone and BMW and no CarPlay
BMW iPhone Snap-in Adapter

Bluetooth Issues With iPhone X/Xs and iOS 11+

While we didn’t have any major issues with our iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 6, the Bluetooth issues resurfaced when my wife and I upgraded to the iPhone X running iOS 11.

As of this writing, our phones are almost unusable in combination with our 2016 X4. What seems to aggravate the problems is when both phones are connected to the car at the same time. If that happens, one of us has to manually disconnect from the car via Settings > Bluetooth in iOS.

But even when I am alone in the car, audio streaming via Bluetooth often stutters, and it usually takes a few minutes before the phone even appears as connected under the car’s Multimedia menu.

BMW USB Audio Interface Not Working

Making the situation even worse is the USB port under the armrest, which has become incredibly unreliable. It appears as if the car loses connection with the phone every few seconds, making audio streaming and charging via USB almost impossible.

I have tried multiple cables and different phones but all experience the same problem. That tells me that the USB port may be defective. As a result, I took the car to the dealer to have the USB port checked out, but of course, they couldn’t reproduce the problem with their phones. BMW never can reproduce any issue and always act like as if they didn’t know about those problems.

Nevertheless, they agreed to order a replacement port and they promised to call me when the part had arrived. That was two months ago and I still haven’t heard back from the dealer.

Troubleshooting Steps That Haven’t Worked (For Me)

Below are a couple of troubleshooting steps that your BMW or Apple Genius might recommend. None of them have worked for me, but it doesn’t hurt to run through the ones you feel might help:

  • Delete all paired Bluetooth devices (BMW) and the Bluetooth accessory (car) in iOS, then enable pairing mode to re-pair the device
  • Update iOS software – That makes the situation often worse
  • Factory reset the iPhone (huge waste of time)
  • Reset network settings (iOS)
  • Turn airplane mode on and off
  • Replace head unit (BMW)
  • Disable Bluetooth, then turn Bluetooth back on

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Apple’s or BMW’s Fault?

I have blamed BMW a lot for my iPhone not working in the car. However, you could argue it might also be Apple’s fault. iOS has had bugs, and I’m sure, they have impacted the Bluetooth connectivity in cars.

However, considering how reliable the iPhone works in most other car models, and the fact that BMW has never released an update for their cars to fix potential bugs in their BT framework, I’d argue it’s BMW’s fault.

What’s important to understand is that BMW, much like any other registered Apple developer, gets new versions of iOS way ahead of the public. Every year, at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), developers get Beta releases of the new iOS version before we get them in October.

Apple does that so that developers can test their apps and services to ensure they are compatible with iOS. BMW either never does that integration testing, or they do and decide not to make any corrections. Either way, it’s BMW that is to blame here.

Do Android Phones Work Better Than iPhone?

That’s a great question that I don’t have an answer to. I have never used an Android device and most users who stumble upon this blog use an iPhone. If you have experience with Android phones or know someone who has or hasn’t issues, please let me know by leaving a comment below!

What’s The Solution?

For cars without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the ultimate fix is for BMW to release a firmware update for the iDrive software package. I have not seen BMW doing that, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. My guess is they just wanted to wait for CarPlay to get released, and they don’t care about older models that don’t have it.

If you are OK with losing some fidelity, you could also try a third-party Bluetooth receiver for your car, such as the ones they sell on Amazon.

BMW and Apple CarPlay

BMW recently announced that they would start charging a subscription fee for CarPlay. Seriously, BMW? You fucked us owners over with crappy technology and phone support for years, and now you want to charge a subscription for a feature you should have added years ago?

This move is ridiculous, especially considering that Apple doesn’t charge carmakers to integrate CarPlay technology.

BMW and iPhone Bluetooth audio issue

The good experience I had with iOS 9 and the iPhone 6 didn’t last very long. It looks like BMW is incapable of keeping up to date with newer iPhone and iOS released. Personally, I have waited long enough for BMW to get their act together and fix all those Bluetooth issues.

What’s your experience with BMW Bluetooth audio issues in newer models? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

About the Author Michael Kummer

I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in the greater Atlanta area. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow a Ketogenic Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else. Check out my latest Diet, Fitness, and Technology articles.

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  • Jeremiah says:

    same issue here. So far no update from BMW . . .

    • Jon S says:

      2013 BMW 328. Bluetooth issues from day one. BMW told me repeatedly hat they didn’t have a fix and after the warranty expired hey told me that I had an older car and that is the issue.

      Very unlikely to buy another BMW unless they factor in the last five years of the technical issues in the new purchase price, which is highly unlikely.

  • Jan V says:

    Same issue with februari 2013 Mini Countryman.

    Bought separate charger so I can still charge, and only listen to audio via bluetooth.

    Silly solution of course in 2013 and with a premium brand like BMW/Mini

  • gt says:

    same problem here with 2013 3-series.

  • Rob says:

    This is a constant frustration for me: wanting to charge my phone via built-in USB in vehicle, while also streaming audio via Bluetooth (as playing audio via USB connection is buggy when using audio apps other than built-in iPhone “Music” app). Searched the web for any type of solution, naturally only came across your write-up… maybe one of these days…

  • Nick says:

    I’m also having the issue on my 2013 Z4 35i. I’m commenting to make sure I see any solution that may pop up in this forum.

  • Adam Craighill says:

    This really helped, thanks! Ridiculous that every time you plug it in to a USB you have to re-configure but at least there is a solution… Thanks

  • Alison Geer says:

    Hi Michael. I have a 5s and I just get the Bluetooth to work for calls, not the audio. Have you managed to get the music connected via BT on the iPhone 5s as well as your iPhone 5? Thanks in advance. Alison

    • BT audio works as long as the check box in one of the screenshots (see post) is checked and you don’t have the phone connected via USB/charging cable. As mentioned in the post, as soon as you plugin the phone via USB the BT audio feature disables itself and you have to re-enable it manually.

      I just got the BMW iPhone snap-in adapter (part number ending in 308) and I can’t hear any music. Calls work and I can see album artwork and song information. Turns out that I need to wait for the yet to be available part number ending in 309 to get audio. What a mess BMW, by the time the adapter is available I’ll have a new iPhone and the whole issues starts from the beginning.

  • Chris says:

    Does anyone know if they have heard any update from BMW on this? This appears to be a pretty big issue. Works perfectly in an entry level Hyundai Elantra.

  • Chris says:

    From my research, the best solution until BMW provides a software update would be to simply use a low profile cigaratte to usb car charger and charge the phone that way while playing music through bluetooth.

    This it seems would work perfectly. Of course it would be nice to be able to use the native usb port instead, but until then!

  • Will says:

    I just updated, I got the disable Bluetooth audio message, went back to media then chose USB and it plays and charges. But I still had to go back and enable Bluetooth audio again after unplugging from USB. It’s not completely fixed yet.

  • Katy J says:

    Best solution I can find: before plugging the iphone into the USB adapter connected to the BMW, disable Bluetooth temporarily. Swipe up to access the Control Center on the iphone, then click off bluetooth. When done charging, turn bluetooth back on. This saves you the extra step of repairing each time you want bluetooth audio streaming. Hope this makes sense and helps!

  • Ken says:

    Can someone confirm whether I could use bluetooth audio streaming without having to add the ConnectedDrive package option? I should come as a standard is it not? I have the impression that the Bluetooth Audio streaming is option unless you add some package to it.

  • Nadia says:

    Thank you so much for your post!! I was going crazy not being able to work out why my phone stopped transmitting music via Bluetooth:-)

  • Nadine says:

    Thank you for this post!!! We do not even get the option of Bluetooth Audio for the iPhone5s. Not sure what to do any thoughts? Just did the software upgrade on a 118d manufactured last year, thought it would solve the problem :(

  • John says:

    Same exact freaking issues here. I prefer Bluetooth Audio because sometimes when I use USB audio using another Music app the music cuts out after 30 seconds and I have to keep connecting back to the iPhone through the interface over and over again every single drive.

    I have my iPhone jailbroken right now and am trying to find a way to stop USB audio from being detected and have it only recognize the cable to charge but I’m not sure if that’s a BMW “feature”

  • Craig L. says:

    Just took delivery of a 2015 X3 and can confirm this issue is still present. Huge bummer, considering this works fine on cars that cost half as much….Hopefully BMW can fix this in a future iDrive update.

  • Preston says:

    I had the same thing happen to my X1 which I just got. It worked great in the dealers lot but when I brought it home and plugged the phone in I got the message. I unhooked it and enabled the phones audio again but I can’t hear anything. The phone seems to be working correctly so I’m not sure what the issue is.

  • Craig L. says:

    Just wanted to post a quick follow-up to this:

    We’ve discovered another issue which may be somehow related to this.

    When using Navigation apps w/ spoken directions, the display will read “My Number (xxx)xxx-xxxx…” (while still listening to, say, satellite radio) then speak the directions over the speakers. This is exactly how it worked in our old Nissan.

    Unfortunately, this seems to work off and on, and most of the time requires us to actually be playing music via BT Audio for the spoken directions to be heard over the speakers. Weird.

    I called the BMW Genius hotline and they didn’t have any solution, other than saying that a software upgrade was coming out in the next couple of months to improve compatibility.

    Anyone else experiencing this?

    -Craig

  • Steve says:

    They (BMW) fixed the issue with the new head unit. My 2012 with CIC has this problem and it drives me crazy. I got a 2013 loaner with NBT and it went seamlessly between USB and bluetooth.

    My guess is that they’ve abandoned development on the CIC systems and only new BMW with the NBT will get the “fix” for this issue.

  • Brian Witte says:

    Go to menu “External devices”. Select Bluetooth. Then Bluetooth audio works.

  • Jennifer says:

    I have the same issue on my new 116D sport, it has the latest software update and I have an iPhone 5S with iOS 8.

    If I connect the device via BT and also the cable using the USB port the phone will charge and play a song via the music app on the phone or by Spotify. However when I go to fast forward or rewind a song using the iDrive the car disconnects the devices via both methods. This means I am unable to play any music or use the telephone to make or receive calls. The phone will not reconnect via Bluetooth unless I stop the car.

    I have been back to the garage and We have also tried both the music and the media cable provided by BMW which has the USB and AUX however when it is connected via one of these cables the car identifies the device is connected however does not play any song at all. How can BMW cables not work and they charge £60 for them!!!

    I was told by the dealership to buy and try a cigarette lighter charger but it wouldn’t charge the phone at all.

    I have sent the dealership an email to forward to BMW as this is what the ‘Genius’ at the garage told me to do. It’s annoying that I previously had a Nissan Juke which was just over half the cost of my BMW and yet it worked perfectly in that car connected to BT and USB. How can BMW not have fixed this already?

  • Cloud Xu says:

    It’s so annoying. How can a program manager design a feature like this. I’m already holding no hope on software quality of all the Auto makers. I’m now counting on Carplay. Only silicon valley company can build a software make people enjoy to use.

    • jacco says:

      Same here in Europe (brand new Mini Countryman), so after two years BMW/MINI still haven’t fixed the problem. Surprisingly the dealer didn’t know the problem even existed, even the so called product genius didn’t know. So we are left with an expensive snap in adapter (and connect feature) that we don’t use and multiple statements from Mini that this is just the way it is. Goodluck and goodbye.

  • Don Schroeder says:

    Cannot connect my iPod nano 7th gen to BMW 328i via Bluetooth. Any suggestions or fixes?

    • Don,

      your problem description is pretty vague :)
      Your best bet is the dealership.

      • Don Schroeder says:

        I have a 7th generation iPod Nana. I try to play it via Bluetooth in my 2013 BMW 328i, but it does not find it. I can find it easy when connecting to my wife’s Ford Escape so it does not seem to be an iPod issues. But, for some reason, the only way I use the iPod in the BMW is using the connection through the USB inside the console compartment. Even my iPhone 5s … I can access the phone portion of it via Bluetooth in my BMW, but the music portion of my iPhone cannot in the BMW unless I do the USB connection. Is this a known issue or something that should be discussed with the BMW folks?

  • Tony says:

    Ever since I plugged in via USB I have the same issue
    I have gone through the menus and tried to reconnect music through bluetooth audio to no avail.

    Should I delete my phone and start over? I can’t find the solution to the problem.

  • Erling says:

    I’ve had a snap-in for my iPhone4 for years. All ok. Bought a snap-in today for my
    Iphone 6.No audio! Everything works ok (apps etc), but no audio except for telephone.

    My multimedia firmware is up to date. Of
    course I can use BT, but I want to store my phone away + added signal strength and apps…

    • Hi Erling,

      If I had to guess I’d say BMW screwed up again by producing a snap-in that doesn’t support audio streaming. They did the same with the 5s where they had two models of the snap-in – one for BT phone only and then months later they finally released one for audio as well. I’m guessing the audio model for the 6 doesn’t exist yet. BMW usually releases it w