20 years of BMW iDrive: A look back
Innovation 10.03.2021 4 Min.
20 years of the BMW iDrive: the story.

Happy birthday, BMW iDrive!  20 years ago BMW unveiled a revolutionary display and operating system. Today similar approaches can be found in almost every car. To mark the 20th anniversary of the iDrive, we look back on its history – as well as forward to its greatest enhancement: the BMW iDrive is about to become more digital, smarter and more connected than ever before. And on 15 March 2021 we’ll show you how.


Switches for the air-con, separate buttons for the sat-nav, and a plethora of controls for the entertainment system – 20 years ago most vehicle consoles were riddled with these and countless other toggles and adjusters for controlling all sorts of features and extras. But in 2001 BMW decided to tackle the deluge. It instigated no less than a paradigm shift in vehicle display and control systems.


2001: The BMW iDrive is unveiled

The first BMW iDrive in the BMW 7 Series of 2001.

The first BMW iDrive in the 2001 BMW 7 Series.


The new control system that BMW launched was the BMW iDrive. It was introduced in the BMW 7 Series and radically reduced the number of buttons on the dashboard. They were replaced instead by a single push-and-turn dial on the centre console, called the iDrive Controller. This was accompanied by the Control Display, a colour screen on the dashboard. In combination, the two components allowed a range of vehicle features, from entertainment to navigation systems, to be operated via single central unit. In addition the BMW 7 Series was the first model ever to offer voice control for selected features.


2001-2007: Constant enhancement 

Direct selection buttons and touch controllers made the BMW iDrive even easier to use.

Direct selection buttons and the touch controller made the BMW iDriver even easier to use.


Since its launch, the iDrive has undergone constant enhancement. One early addition were the favourites buttons. These were designed to store individually selected operating steps to make the system even more intuitive to use. Direct selection buttons were also integrated for the most frequently used functions. And then there was the innovative Touch Controller, which allowed the user to input characters in ‘handwriting’. The control system of the BMW iDrive soon set new standards in the automotive industry. Today numerous other manufacturers use an adapted version of the display-controller combination to operate their vehicles too.


2007- 2016: Foundation for connected services

BMW was the first manufacturer to present a head-up display for the driver.

BMW becomes the first manufacturer to integrate a Head-Up display for the driver.


The iDrive paved the way not only for intuitive controls but also for new digital services to be integrated into BMW models. The BMW Online service had already been available in the first version of the system, marking the inaugural step towards intelligent vehicle connectivity. In 2004 BMW became the first manufacturer to introduce the Head-Up display, which projected important driving information onto the windscreen, straight into the driver’s field of view. In 2007 Google Search was integrated into the iDrive. And just one year later BMW became the first vehicle manufacturer worldwide to offer full access to the internet, again via the iDrive. Since 2012 users have been able to integrate third-party apps into the system as well.


2016-2020: The iDrive gets even smarter

BMW iDrive with BMW Operating System 7.0

BMW iDrive with BMW Operating System 7.


In 2016 owners of a BMW with an iDrive gained even more connected control over their cars: the introduction of the BMW Connected app meant they could now see vehicle status information and transfer navigation and other data straight to their cars – all via their smartphones. Today’s MyBMW app offers a host of other features as well. The voice control has undergone constant enhancement. And with the launch in 2018 of the BMW X5 featuring the BMW Operating System 7 came. Since the BMW 3 Series (2018) the integrated BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant has been the new digital companion of every driver with a suitably equipped BMW. Vehicles and their iDrives are kept up to date at all times by the latest Remote Software Upgrade.


2021: Next Generation BMW iDrive

Moving into the future: next-generation BMW iDrive in the BMW iX.

Into the future: BMW iDrive – the next generation.


To coincide with the 20th anniversary, the latest generation of BMW iDrive takes the driver-vehicle relationship to a completely new level. The new system neatly bridges the gap between analogue and digital technologies, and human and machine. It heralds another paradigm shift by BMW in intelligent automotive controls.


The next generation of BMW iDrive incorporates a number of exciting upgrades and smart features as well as all the capabilities needed to operate the car of the future. You will soon read more here on BMW Group News.

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