BMW gets into the virtual assistant game with its ConnectedDrive app

The carmaker is taking inspiration from Siri, Cortana and Google Now.

BMW is one of the more tech-focused car companies out there, and today the company announced an expansion of its ConnectedDrive in-car systems at Microsoft Build. The new BMW Connected app for the iPhone is powered by Microsoft's Azure platform and is BMW's take on a always-on assistant, not unlike Cortana or Google Now. The unveiling on stage was quick, but generally speaking it looks like BMW Connected will start off by managing your appointments and giving you notifications about when you should leave, how traffic will change your route, whether you should get off the highway to avoid a traffic jam and so on.

All those features sounded similar to what Google Now and the iPhone do now, but the difference here is that BMW Connect will sync up with your car as well (assuming it's a BMW running the ConnectedDrive platform). In addition to pulling in destinations and appointments from your calendar, the BMW Connected app will learn from your routines and places you search for commonly and give you travel times for those locations automatically. Frequent and recurring spots are stored and revealed to you when the app thinks you'll want to return to them.

If you're a BMW driver, the big benefit here will likely be the way the app integrates into your car -- but lots of drivers would probably be just as happy using Android Auto or Carplay to tie their phones and vehicles together. That said, the new app ties right into your car, letting you unlock and lock the doors, flash the lights, kick up the AC before you're in it and so forth. But if BMW Connected still isn't compelling to you yet, BMW says it'll keep updating the app with more features. We're going to get a demo of the service today at Build and will update with any more details we learn.

Update, 4/1/16: BMW gave us a quick tour of its new app, and from a high level the company is positioning it as a solution for smarter navigation. As announced yesterday, the app learns from your behaviors about certain routes you take frequently and when you take them -- it'll know you drive to work every day and arrive around 8:30AM, for example. But, the app is smart enough to know not to notify you ever day, because most of us can get to work on our own, thank you very much. However, if there's a lot of traffic on your route, the app will let you know so you can adjust accordingly.

Any place you travel to frequently will get stored in its own section of the app, while scheduled events and locations you save for later also show up under their own headings. You'll always see how long it'll take you to get to those locations, and if it happens to be around the time you are heading to or from one of your commonly-visited spots you'll see the traffic for that as well.

Naturally, you can easily hand off navigation from your phone to your BMW, and you can also send messages to people on an appointment to let them know your estimated time of arrival. That's all well and good, but seeing the demo of this app made it really feel like just a small first step towards what BMW is envisioning. That's a world in which your phone and car work together to be more proactive and help you manage your travels -- for example, imagine your phone telling you that your commute will be longer because you need to stop for gas. That said, the company was clear to note that this is just version one of the app and it expects to keep adding functionality over time. That'll be worth watching for, because right now it's hardly an essential app -- but still worth checking out if you're a BMW owner.