December 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

More European BMW Buyers Get On-Demand Music Without the Smartphone (Updated)


It might seem obvious that standalone music apps would find their way into car dashboards, but it’s actually not.

When Pandora founder Tim Westergren drove me around Las Vegas listening to the first instance of Pandora in the car three years ago, he saw it breaking the other way, towards the phone. His reasoning: People who are driving tend to have their phones, not to mention a convenient power source — and those phones have wireless modems with data plans.

So far, the rest of the industry followed that same approach: You connect the phone to the car, then use your car’s display and controls to make the phone play music.

Three years later, the internet of things is starting to take hold, and data plans are increasingly limited, meaning that you can only stream so much music. In Europe, the rara on-demand music subscription just announced a big expansion of “Europe’s first in-car on-demand music streaming service [with] no need to plug in a smartphone.”

Following a pilot program on the BMW 5 Series (when it was available as a £325/€390 optional feature), rara, the on-demand music service,will now come as an option on virtually all new BMWs sold in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands , for free, for a yearfor €390 (£325 in the UK) for the first year, with unlimited data roaming in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, and Spain. (After the first year, it costs £225/€220 per year.) Update: Buyers also need the Media Package Professional, which costs between £1,000 to £1,990 unless it’s a 5 Series Luxury, M Sport, 6 Series, 7 Series, or X5; it comes free on those.

The BMW Online Entertainment system includes an app for rara, built right into the dash — no phone (or potentially expensive data plan) required. BMW has added Napster (now part of Rhapsody) to its dashboard as well , but as a connected smartphone app [updated]. Rara is the first music app built straight into the dash in Europe.

Drivers and their passengers will be able to select songs using the cars own controls, screen, and internet connection — a total of 22 million on-demand tracks, plus over 200 curated music channels. As part of the subscription, which is free for an entire year, they also get all of that music on the web, iOS, Android, and Windows 8 PCs and tablets, in addition to in their brand new “bimmer.”

“BMW Online Entertainment with rara represents a step change in the way we consume music in the car; no more scratched CDs or dusty old tapes in the glove compartment, no more having to plug in your mobile,” said Jez Bell, CEO of rara. “Just stream all the music you want, direct to your car with rara.”

Once the free year is up, continuing the subscription will cost the usual 10 Euro per month, continuing across all of your rara apps on all of your platforms.

For someone who has recently purchased a new BMW, approximately 1 Euro per day [updated] might seem cheap for 22 million songs and the data to access them, especially once the owner(s) have grown accustomed to having the service around. It could actually work to bundle these music services with cars, unifying the data connection and the service under the hood, without any extra doodads to deal with. After all, it’s the same strategy that made SiriusXM the highest-grossing music subscription in the states.

Hopefully, more music apps will find their ways into our hands without smartphone getting in the way.