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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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Long-pressing the Voice Command button on the steering wheel triggers Siri. That’s awesome and a welcome enhancement to the driving experience.
According to BMW’s Bluetooth Compatibility Check, the following features are not supported in combination with an iPhone 6S Plus:
I can live with those limitations!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.