Can i use Alexa in my car?

Alexa in the car: that's what Audi, BMW, Seat, VW ...

Hans-Christian Dirscherl

Audi, BMW, Seat, VW: We give an overview of the status of Alexa integration in cars that are available in Germany. Plus: Inexpensive retrofit solutions such as Amazon Echo Auto.

EnlargeThis is what the Alexa integration looks like in a seat

Amazon had already released the Alexa Auto SDK in August 2018, with which developers can integrate Alexa into Incar infotainment systems. Alexa Auto offers support for streaming multimedia files, controlling smart home controls, receiving weather reports and integrating Alexa skills. Alexa Auto also supports phone calls and GPS-based navigation as well as searching for restaurants, cinemas and local shops. Alexa Auto lets you stream music and audiobooks from Amazon Music, Audible, and iHeart radio.

We provide an overview of the status of Alexa integration in cars (sorted alphabetically) that are available in Germany. This article will be expanded continuously. At the end of this article, we also present retrofit solutions with which you can retrospectively integrate Alexa into cars.

Audi (e-tron): Alexa does not need a smartphone

The first Audi model with fully integrated Alexa is the Audi E-Tron, Audi's new, all-electric SUV, which has been available since spring 2019. Audi integrates Alexa directly into its MMI infotainment system and Alexa is a standard part of Audi Connect. The Audi driver can use it to find out about news, the weather and the latest scores from sporting events, place food orders or put things on his to-do list. Alexa streams music and audiobooks through Amazon Music and Audible. With the smart home control, you can lock doors in the house or regulate the lighting from within the car. And of course Alexa also tells the obligatory jokes in the Audi.

All of this works in contrast to BMW or Seat without an app or smartphone. You only have to connect your Amazon account to the e-tron once, then Alexa can be started using the onboard voice control: You press the steering wheel button for voice control and also say "Alexa". As soon as the driver has uttered the keyword “Alexa”, his queries are sent to the Amazon server and the LTE module in the MMI system establishes a connection via an Audi backend. The information requested is output through the car's audio system. If, on the other hand, you only press the voice control button, you start voice control of the Audi and not Alexa.

EnlargeThese commands are available for Alexa in the Audi e-tron (as of July 2019).

Important: Alexa in the Audi e-tron is limited to voice output, so there are no supporting displays on the Audi touchscreen. In the test, Alexa worked perfectly in the e-tron.

Alexa is not a function on demand: Alexa integration is part of Audi Connect in the E-Tron. Alexa integration is automatically available to anyone who books Audi Connect. You do not have to order Alexa support in the E-Tron via the new Function on demand (FoD). Function on demand can be used to subsequently activate a function in your Audi, for example DAB +. Audi introduces FoD with the E-Tron and then rolls out this new offer on its new models such as the A4. In the Audi models previously available from Audi dealers, however, FoD is not yet available.

Since the second half of 2019, Audi has also gradually wanted to offer conventional Audi models with Alexa support, as Michael Crusius, Audi press spokesman, explained to us. With Audi MMI and the Audi Connect services, Audi already offers a fairly powerful infotainment system with good voice control. Thus, on the one hand, the suffering of the Audi drivers should be low and the demand for Alexa as an alternative to Audi's own voice control should be manageable.

BMW: Alexa support has started

BMW started Alexa support at the end of June 2019. You can read all the details in this message. It should be noted, however, that Alexa support is provided separately from the introduction of the new BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. Because Amazon Alexa and BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant run on different versions of the underlying operating system of the BMW infotainment system.

Alexa only foriDrive 5 and iDrive 6 : Amazon Alexa is initially only available in Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the USA for BMW vehicles with a production date (SOP) after October 2018 / from November 2018 and with the Operating systems iDrive 5 and iDrive 6 to disposal. And for mini vehicles with a production date (SOP) from November 2018. The latest BMW Connected app (version 10.1.5.) Or mini-connected app and a valid Amazon account are sufficient for this - these customers do not need any software Update in the vehicle!

Alexa received later: All BMW and Mini models with a production date between March and October 2018 and iDrive 5 and iDrive 6 receive Alexa as a paid software update at a later time at every certified dealer as soon as BMW has approved Alexa for it.

If you drive a new BMW with the latest Operating System 7.0 with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, you cannot use Alexa at the moment (see below for more on this).

This is how Alexa works in the BMW

BMW demonstrated the Alexa integration to us in a prototype a few months ago. We saw the German-speaking Alexa integration as of April 24, 2019.

Requirement: To be able to use Alexa in a BMW, you need to connect your Alexa account to Connected Drive. The smartphone with the Alexa app and the Connected Drive app must be in the car while Alexa is being used and connected to the vehicle via Bluetooth. In the long term, however, BMW plans to enable Alexa operation in the vehicle without an existing smartphone.

To start Alexa: As soon as you want to use Alexa, briefly press the steering wheel button to start voice control. At BMW, this is always on the right-hand side of the steering wheel. This button controls the standard voice control of BMW Connected Drive (and the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant as the latest version of BMW voice control) and - if available - Siri for Carplay. Alexa is now the third voice assistant that is started via this button. As soon as you have briefly pressed the steering wheel button, also say "Alexa". Without an explicit "Alexa", the voice control of BMW Connected Drive starts (by the way, you start Siri with a long press on the steering wheel button). So you can not only start Alexa in the BMW with the appropriate wake-up call "Alexa", but pressing the corresponding steering wheel button is mandatory.

This works with Alexa: So you briefly pressed the steering wheel button and said "Alexa". It will now take a moment before you can speak your command. Basically, all functions should be available in the BMW that you can also use at home via Alexa. So you can ask knowledge questions or ask about the weather. You can create or add to todo lists or shopping lists. This is useful if you urgently think of something during the journey that you still want to do after the journey.

You can play music from Amazon Music and audiobooks from Audible via Alexa. Both Amazon Music and Audible are seamlessly integrated into the BMW Connected Drive media menu. These two menu items appear in the media menu next to the entries radio, connected music (the online music streaming service from BMW), music hard disk or Bluetooth audio (with music from the smartphone). Attention: the data generated by music streaming via Alexa does not run on the SIM card built into the BMW, but on the SIM card of the connected smartphone. This data is therefore at the expense of your mobile phone contract.

You can also ask Alexa about traffic conditions and a navigation route. Alexa then reads you the traffic jam situation and shows the route to your destination on the control display. You can then select this immediately and start navigation.

In terms of the operating principle, Alexa in the BMW can best be compared to Alexa on an Echo Show: The voice-controlled process is thus supported by the screen output. A concrete example: if you ask Alexa how far the moon is from the earth, the connected drive screen in the BMW shows a photo of the earth's satellite. Or you can ask Alexa about Angela Merkel. Alexa then reads you from the Wikipedia entry on the German Chancellor and shows a picture of Angela Merkel on the control display. There is no actual Alexa start screen under Connected Drive, but the text "Amazon Alexa" in the top left of the control display indicates that Alexa is currently active. The optical integration of Alexa in Connected Drive is a good success for BMW, there are no layout breaks or unsightly transitions.

You cannot use Alexa without a cellular connection; But this is not a special feature of BMW, because an Internet connection is always mandatory with Alexa - even if you use Alexa with an Echo or with the Alexa app on your smartphone.

tip : This is how Alexa should look and function in the BMW.