BMW’s new 5 series range, includes two new electric BMW i5 models and as you would expect, has no shortage of tech onboard. One of the most interesting additions though is a service called AirConsole, a multi-player games platform for the centre screen. The service has been available on TVs for some time, but this is the first time it has been available in a car.
AirConsole uses your mobile phone as a controller, connecting them via BlueTooth to the car, and the BMW’s 14.3-inch centre display to view the game. The games are a selection of quizzes and straightforward platform and track games, suited to a family audience. This is different to the work BMW is doing with Meta for VR in cars – it's more of a Nintendo Wii than an Xbox AAA selection.
At the time of launch, there are around 13 games available on the BMW OS, but more are coming, with 100s of games on its PC platform and developers pitching games to the company for inclusion. All new 5 series owners will get the AirConsole service for free for the first year but there’s expected to be a monthly charge after that. Though initially exclusive to the 5 series, the AirConsole app will be rolled out to other models too.
I had the chance to try a few of the games inside the new BMW i5 in Germany ahead of the launch. Connecting your phone to the system is easy, you simply scan the QR code on screen with your camera and then enter the code. The controller runs happily in your phone’s browser but you can also download the AirConsole app for a full-screen experience.
The first game I tried was a music quiz called Music Guess, which you can play with as many players as you have seats in the car. Short clips of songs play through the i5’s speakers and you have to guess the track before your opponents from a multiple-choice list.
The second game was an Angry Birds-style platform game called Tower of Babel, where you have to knock down your opponent’s tower with a series of projectiles. You can play in teams if you have more than two players, and the controller provides a simple pull-back and aim control on the touchscreen pad.
Next, I tried something a bit more challenging, a driving game called Burnin' Rubber 5 Air, with weapons strapped to your car to take out the opposition – like Mario Cart meets Twisted Metal. Your phone as the controller gives you left and right steering, braking and firing controls and is impressively lag-free, if not as responsive as a dedicated controller.
The football game Golazo! is a fun two-player with simple graphics. It’s not quite FIFA but offers enough control with a virtual joystick and buttons on your phone to make it very playable. This was where a little skill starts to come into it, and I could imagine it being a popular choice.
Smoots Summer Games is an athletics game that pushes that skill level further, as you have to swipe your fingers to make your character run and jump in the various disciplines. There’s definitely a knack to it and could get really competitive between passengers.
Though the game selection is hosted on a cloud, the games actually download before playing, so you don’t need to worry about signal loss in the middle of a game. Of course, as AirConsole takes over that centre display, it’s only useable while the car is stationary, which makes it ideal for use while waiting for the car to charge. I’d love to see this also be made available to passengers in the rear while on the move. It could also be a great service once cars are able to offer Level 3 autonomy, so the driver can take their eyes off the road.
AirConsole isn’t going to appeal to those serious gamers but for families or those partial to smartphone games, it hits the right mark. It’s simple to join and quick to learn. While you could play similar games on your phone, this benefits not only from that gorgeous BMW display but also from the multiplayer aspect, involving all the passengers, rather than just one.
I would certainly be much happier sitting at an EV charger for half an hour if I had these games on hand. I can’t wait to see what other games join the channel in the future.