BMW i8: Driving impressions

October 31, 2014


The BMW i8. A car that I have been looking forward to driving ever since I laid eyes on it as a concept five years ago (and who can forget it’s appearance as Tom Cruise’s ride in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).

I was fortunate enough to tag along with a reporter friend en route to a test drive at the Monticello Motor Club, about a 90 minute ride north of New York City. Yes, it was prime foliage season, but there were other things on my mind when the i8 cruised over to pick me up from the train stop.


Let’s start by saying the car looks unlike anything out there. It’s basically a concept car come to life, and appears like you imagine it would from the magazines. The curves and angles of the car pop out, seemingly anti-gravity in nature from certain angles. And don’t even get me started on those scissor doors (it just isn’t a super car with scissor doors). For a car that starts out at $135,000, buyers will likely appreciate the out-of-this world look of a vehicle that could be in the next Halo video game.

The drive up to Monticello was pleasant (although a bit rainy), and the miles sped by in the i8. However once we arrived something unexpected happened.

The members of MMC are the kind of guys that helicopter in from Wall Street and race their bespoke track cars for an afternoon of setting lap records, or set up their Porsche 911 GT2’s for a fun track day and burn through a couple grand worth of fresh rubber. These are guys that own Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and other super-exotics, and almost everyone of them drooled over the i8. Walking around the car, snapping pics, inquiring when it was coming out – I’ve never seen big money car guys go crazy over one particular vehicle before.

What makes it special

The BMW i8 is a type of hybrid known as a plug-in hybrid. However, unlike the Chevy Volt plug in that uses a gas engine to power its electric motor when the battery is depleted, BMW’s version (dubbed BMW eDrive) uses both a gasoline engine, as well as electric motors in tandem. The i8 has an 96 kW (131 hp) electric motor up front that powers the car at typically low speeds, and a 3-cylinder 1.5L TwinTurbo gas engine (231 hp) behind the cabin, in a mid-engine layout like you would see in a Porsche Boxster. The gasoline engine fires up when more power is needed, and the two in conjunction propel the i8 with some impressive oomph.

Carbon fiber composite - part of the "Life Cell"

In all-electric mode the car has a range of around 20 miles. Since the i8 we were testing was European spec, we unfortunately couldn’t charge up the battery to full capacity before driving up to Monticello. Therefore I wasn’t able to drive the car in all-electric mode; however, since the battery is continually being recharged by regenerative breaking, for example, the battery did have some charge in it for when it was called into use for low-speed driving, and when we put it into sport mode and the full propulsion power of the vehicle was needed.

The car is relatively lightweight because it incorporates extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum throughout most of the car. What we would normally call a traditional chassis doesn’t really seem to exist as the car is a essentially two structures. The first structure, dubbed the ‘Life module’, or passenger cell, is made entirely of carbon fiber composite, making it an extremely lightweight, and super rigid, structure. The passenger cell is akin to a carbon fiber monocoque used in supercars and open-wheel racecars like those in Formula 1.

The 2nd structure, or ‘Drive module,’ is an aluminum structure that has the electrical motors up front and the gas engine in the rear. In the middle of this structure is the car’s batteries, which essentially join the front and rear of the structure together. When combined with the ‘Life module,’ the two structures create the basic car chassis, or what BMW is calling the ‘LifeDrive’ concept.


Source: BMW Source: BMW

Interior & Technology

IMG_1973_2The i8 is an impressive bit of kit. As you can imagine it uses BMW’s latest version of iDrive, which as many can tell you is good and a little bit bad. I was impressed by BMW’s data visualization for the hybrid system, as well as figures it collects that informs the driver of electric use, efficiency, and things like that. I would be remiss without noting that a $30,000 Toyota Prius will give you that information as well, and it’s even more extensive.

The seats were very comfortable, suitable for grand touring and offering plenty support but not overly stiff. The model we were driving had the ‘Pure Impulse‘ package, meaning we had a ‘Carpo Carum’ colored interior with BMW i Blue accents. It was all very nice, but the interior borrowed heavily from BMW’s parts bin, meaning some of the knobs an switches will be familiar to current BMW owners. The swooping design of the dash and intimate cockpit feel for the driver were welcome, and definitely more aggressive than designs BMW usually implements. Technically the car has two “seats” in the back, but no one (even kids) are fitting back there.

Driving and Handling

While the tech behind the gas-electric hybrid and chassis-structure is impressive, driving the car is fairly simple. In normal ‘comfort’ mode, the car drives serenely along with minimal driver input. The ride is a bit stiff but nothing too jarring, and the electric motors and gas engine in the back purr along at normal speeds. Every now and then you’ll hear a gurgle or snarl from the back as you push the gas pedal a little deeper, pulling past some gawkers driving in your blindspot.

Put the car in sport mode, and now you have a different animal. First off all, the speedo cluster turns from a serene blue to an angry red tinge, signaling what’s ahead. Everything tightens up, and the electric motors are giving you full torque up front, and the engine out back is revving higher as 6-speed transmission holds gears until you click on the paddle shifter to upshift. Yes it’s a fast car and there are plenty of fast cars on the road, but the combination of torquey electric motors up front and the gas engine out back creates a unique feeling of speed when you’re out on the highway.

Unfortunately I was not able to take the i8 out on Monticello’s amazing (and highly technical) racecourse, but both Ari Strauss (president and partner at MMC), and my reporter friend took the car out a few times and were very impressed. Again, the big thing that put grins on their faces was the massive torque produced by having those electric motors up front.

Final Words

If the BMW i8 is the sporty, efficient future for autos, sign me up. While the driving experience isn’t going to make you think Bugatti Veyron, the tech, looks and unique drivetrain make this a package with a lot of appeal. Buyers with some means are going to find that they’re getting a lot of space-age tech for a reasonable (for them) amount of money. Now, would you rather take that $135k and buy a 911 Carrera 4 GTS? That’s a tough choice, but the one that’ll give you a piece of the future now, and the envious looks around town is pretty obvious.



The latest Apple (AAPL) event, coming little more than a month after it’s much-hyped iPhone 6 blowout, is over. Many of the products revealed, or updated realy, were pretty much what was expected (a highly unusual product leak of the newer iPads killed any element of surprise).

apple-tim-cook-ipad-airOf note, Apple unveiled the world’s thinnest iPad, the iPad Air 2, as well as an updated iPad mini. Another anticipated product update was the long-awaited Retina display iMac, starting at not-insignificant $2,499. There were some grumblings that a standalone 5K retina monitor was not available for Mac Pro users hungry for a display to showcase the desktop’s horsepower.

But one update was missing, and it’s kind of a big one: Apple TV. Famously dubbed a ‘hobby’ by Steve Jobs himself, Apple TV has become something of a mainstay for those connected households that are growing everyday. It’s predicted that over half of all U.S. households with internet access will be using ‘connected’ TVs.

Indeed, the last time Tim Cook and Co. updated the Apple TV was over two years ago. For all intents and purposes the product is working fine. But the promise of the product could be so much more.

Netflix (NFLX), although getting annihilated today by investors, isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to invest heavily in content, including originals, and the company still grew subscribers despite a price hike. HBO made the internet collectively cry with joy by announcing a standalone HBO Go offering that will be available in 2015. Since both Netflix and HBO Go apps are available on Apple TV, presumably the current generation Apple TV will still be able to capitalize on the popularity of both services.Apple_TV_2nd_Generation

But what of Apple TV itself? Where’s the much rumored product update that would incorporate Siri Voice search for content? (Typing in titles and actors is just so tedious.) What about new content offerings from Apple – i.e., subscription VOD, or even a blockbuster exclusive deal for something like an NFL Sunday Ticket, or streaming of NBA games? Any of these could push the product over the top into another stratosphere of consumer desire. Even a merging of Apple TV with the Airport Express (which I own and love), making the streaming experience that much better would launch sales of the product.

Obviously internet TV is here to stay. CBS (CBS) just announced that will offer live programming and some VOD online for $5.99 (I won’t address the fact that CBS is already free over the air). We know Apple’s been trying for an over-the-top cable product for some time now, but with little success from content owners. Be that as it may, Apple missed an opportunity here to really push the needle on the current Apple TV, a ‘hobby’ that most people (including big media cos.) are taking quite seriously.


Outside one of the Game of Thrones food trucks in NYC (courtesy Flickr user CampfireNYC2011 used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license)

Great article here by Mike Monello, partner at agency Campfire, on how brands should get their message, or story, out in a “hyperconnected world.”  Too often in the agency world (as I and many others can attest) brands are too concerned about how many Facebook “likes” a campaign receives, mentions on twitter, and the like.  What Mike’s focusing on in the article is giving fans, especially the most passionate ones, an array of entry points to experience a brand’s story and to give them the tools to create their own stories.  An example Mike brings up is Campfire’s work for HBO’s Game of Thrones:

To ensure that the first season of HBO’s new fantasy series, Game of Thrones, became a mainstream hit, my agency, Campfire, evoked the world of a show that didn’t yet exist. We designed a series of sensory experiences that invited people to see, hear, touch, smell and taste the world of “Westeros,” as well as conveyed the types of dramatic stories in the series itself. The campaign began with mailing intricately designed scent boxes to online influencers, and culminated in a food truck curated by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio on the streets of New York and Los Angeles. We brought the show to life in the minds of curious fans, turned them into evangelists and helped build an excited audience that made Game of Thrones one of the season’s most anticipated and successful new shows.

The entire article is great read – highly recommended.


BioWare's upcoming Mass Effect 3

I’m happy to report that I will be in San Diego this weekend during the madness that is Comic-Con. Although I’m not an official badge-holder, I’m making sure to check out all the ancillary venues and industry events that are part of this now mass-media convention. One area that’s been gaining traction over the years at this event is gaming, and publishers are once again aiming to showcase their blockbuster, AAA titles. Games like Mass Effect 3, Gears of War 3, and most likely Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will be making appearances. As Fortune’s John Gaudiosi reports, game publishers are here not just to show off their upcoming titles, but to get convention attendees and the media excited about the publishers’ expanding partnership with Hollywood in pursuing projects with transmedia potential.

John Gaudiosi:

The worlds of video games and Hollywood continue to converge with transmedia being a key buzz word in Hollywood today. One of the most-anticipated examples of this will be on display at Legendary Entertainment’s first-ever Comic-Con panel on Friday, July 22. The first details on the Mass Effect movie will be unveiled by BioWare’s game creator Casey Hudson, the film’s screenwriter Mark Protosevich (Thor, I Am Legend), and Hollywood producer Avi Arad (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers).

Gamers (and moviegoers for that matter) are quick to point out most movie adaptations are done poorly, do not stay faithful to the source material, and ultimately seem like a money grab. However, in order to be considered transmedia, Mass Effect’s film producers must not only adhere closely to the ‘canon’ of the Mass Effect universe, but expand the story and give fans a different viewpoint in ways the game did not. It seems Gaudiosi isn’t fully aware of what the term transmedia means, since the balance of the piece discusses simply translating, or adapting, video games into feature-length movies. (I can’t blame Gaudiosi too much, however, since there have been numerous arguments between transmedia practitioners as to what the term really entails.) That being said, it will be interesting to see where BioWare and its film collaborators intend to take the Mass Effect film project, and whether it will actually be a transmedia effort.


Duke Nukem Forever box
Last November I wrote about a case on the Supreme Court’s docket concerning California’s violent video game law. The law would impose a $1,000 fine on retailers selling “violent” video games to minors. At oral argument, Justice Scalia took the state of California to task for implementing such a law, questioning how the state could properly determine what is “violent,” and whether the state had the right to do so with video games.  Today the court, in a 5-4 opinion penned by Justice Scalia, struck down the law as violating the 1st Amendment. The court ruled that video games, “like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them,” deserved 1st Amendment protection, and California’s law went too far in restricting the expression of ideas conveyed in the games.

As other commentators noted last year, upholding California’s law would make video games the only type of media illegal to sell to minors based on violent content.  By striking down the law, and giving video games 1st Amendment protection, not only is the court on the path to protecting and encouraging more mature, and realistic games, but the decision helps give credence to the argument that the genre should be viewed as a form of art worthy of protection.


iOS 5's Notification Center

I’ve been using iOS 5 beta on my iPhone 3GS for the past week, and overall I’ve been quite pleased. I can’t use all the features included in iOS 5 since Apple hasn’t enabled everything, plus I need a developer version of OS X Lion to use others, but here are my thoughts so far:

Notification Center: This is the one feature that I can’t live without. After owning a Nexus S for a short time, I couldn’t believe how I dealt without a proper notification system on my previous iPhones. Non-intrusive notifications, available whenever you need to read them at the flick of a finger, are an immediate improvement to the user experience. Plus with Apple’s implementation, the Notification Center itself can be customized to give certain types of notices (like missed calls, or texts) higher priorities over others, and clearing them can be done individually or all at once.

Camera: With the 3GS, I can’t access all the new camera features, but one that is quite handy is the ‘up’ volume button for the camera shutter. It really makes things a lot easier capturing successive shots in a row. However, I’ve had some issues with the lockscreen dedicated camera button – sometimes it appears, other times it’s nowhere to be found.

Reminders: A simple app that has been working flawlessly for me so far. The fact that you can tag locations in your reminders opens up a number of possibilities, besides helping people like me who forget little things all the time.

Features that aren’t working and other issues: iTunes Sync for music hasn’t been activated yet, and Photostream isn’t working for me as I do not have OS X Lion. I’ve been having issues with wifi dropping in and out, and sometimes it won’t recognize available networks. Apps like Newsstand appear to be in testing mode, just like most everything else in this beta. Newsstand may work on iPads running iOS 5 with digital subscriptions linked to them, but I haven’t tried it yet.

UPDATE: I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone 4 and have been using iOS 5 on it for the past few days. So far everything’s been silky smooth; the features are all working nicely, just faster. That being said, it’s surprising how well iOS 5 works on the 3GS – a phone that’s now over 2 years old.


The two likely viewpoints coming out of Apple’s iOS 5 reveal at WWDC yesterday are these: if you’re a regular iPhone user, new features like non-invasive notifications and iCloud make the already impressive iPhone experience even better; if you’re someone who follows the tech space closely, you might think these new features bring iOS to Android levels (i.e., drop down notifications, cloud services by Google, and over the air updates). Without having tried iOS 5 yet, but having owned several iPhones and a Nexus S, I’m eager to see if Apple does what it normally does, meaning take things that are already out there and make them better. Bloggers at Boy Genius Report using developer versions of iOS 5 claim this is already the case.

The big concern for those making a living in the iOS ecosystem are the services Apple is subsuming within iOS 5. The Reader feature in Safari 5 takes aim at link-saving services like Instapaper and Read it Later, and deeper Twitter integration will hurt photo-sharing and similar Twitter-based apps. iMessage is not only taking on other IM apps and Blackberry BBM, but the carriers with their lucrative text message business. As an Instapaper fan who doesn’t use desktop Safari, I will continue to save articles with Instapaper, and doubtless others will to. But some of these developers are getting nervous, because their wake-up call is here. You can make a living in the app marketplace, and you can do quite well, but start making a name for yourself and the guys who created the market may corner it for themselves.


How far will Apple go?

May 23, 2011

Image courtesy of

Approximately one week ago patent-holding firm Lodsys sent letters to select iOS developers, directing them to license Lodsys technology for making in-app purchases.  Small developers were alarmed at the prospect of having to give a percentage of sales to Lodsys, and others feared giving in to Lodsys meant sliding down a slippery slope.  Would Apple stand up to Lodsys and defend developers, who are ostensibly the lifeblood of the iOS economy?

In a letter sent to Lodsys CEO Mark Small today, Apple defended its “App Makers” by claiming the company’s licensing of Lodsys technology meant App Makers were covered by it as well.

Thus, the technology that is targeted in your notice letters is technology that Apple is expressly licensed under the Lodsys patents to offer to Apple’s App Makers. These licensed products and services enable Apple’s App Makers to communicate with end users through the use of Apple’s own licensed hardware, software, APIs, memory, servers, and interfaces, including Apple’s App Store. Because Apple is licensed under Lodsys’ patents to offer such technology to its App Makers, the App Makers are entitled to use this technology free from any infringement claims by Lodsys.

I am not a patent attorney, but the question remains how far Apple will go to defend App Makers. What happens when Lodsys follows up on its letters demanding payment and litigates its claims against the App Makers? Even with Apple’s letter in hand, will App Makers still be forced to defend themselves in patent litigation?  Will Apple indemnify App Makers using its SDK, or possibly seek a preliminary restraining order barring Lodsys from demanding payment from App Makers because of the “doctrines of patent exhaustion and first sale” as mentioned in its letter?  Stay tuned.

UPDATE #1: reports that Lodsys has indeed filed suit against several App store developers, accelerating plans that originally called for a 21-day negotiation window with the developers before filing suit.

UPDATE #2: Apple’s taken a big step in its defense of the App Makers, filing a motion to intervene in the Lodsys lawsuit.



The Panel

The incredible vantage point I had from behind the panel

One of the most talked about panels at SXSW this year, which was inexplicably held in a small conference room in the far away land of the Hyatt Regency Austin, was this one. The panel was hosted by Tim Shey (@moth), a former interactive TV producer whose company NextNewNetworks was recently purchased by YouTube. It was a lively discussion, and here were the highlights:

Fred Graver, Sr. VP Programming – Travel Channel (@fredgraver)

A former writer on Late Night with David Letterman and the panel’s jokester, Fred noted that Travel Channel found 20-50% of viewers watch the network’s shows by DVR, and same day plus 3 days figure jumps to 50%.  With that percentage in mind, Travel Channel needed a method to boost live ratings for its shows, especially for premieres.  A solution? Graver convinced notorious crank Anthony Bourdain to live-tweet during the premiere of his show, No Reservations.  Prior to the show, Travel Channel ran promos instructing viewers to “follow Tony as he live-tweets during the show,” and to “be a part of the season premiere.”  The campaign led to some of the highest ratings ever for No Reservations, and the show received over 10,000 tweets mentioning #noreservations during the live airing.

Gavin Purcell, Supervising Producer – Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (@gavinpurcell)

Late Night was capitalizing on social from the beginning, and it all started with Jimmy, who’s a big fan of Twitter.  Purcell and Fallon wanted to cultivate social early on, and connect to fans beyond a traditional one-way dialogue.  They discovered what worked best on Twitter was focusing on having conversations with people, rather than “spouting off” promotional info.  The #latenight hashtag was formed as a means for fans to share stories, and the best ones were read by Fallon on the show.  Purcell noted the hashtag wasn’t about telling jokes, but about viewers sharing stories that were humorous or interesting.  The most intriguing aspect that Purcell mentioned was something called the Second Screen VJ, a position he said would be an evolution of the community manager.  The Second Screen VJ would have access to the star, like a sidekick, and act as a liasion for fans to connect to the show, and be the face of the show’s social campaigns.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about this in future.

Chloe Sladden, Director of Media Partnerships – Twitter (@ChloeS)

Two years ago, with less than 40 employees, Twitter brought in Sladden believing the company needed to have a voice in the TV and entertainment world.  Now Sladden says Twitter can be the “scalable iTV platform we’ve been waiting for.”  While that might be an exaggeration, Twitter integration with live TV can lead to some interesting findings.  Take Jersey Shore for example.  Looking at Twitter trends over time, massive spikes in activity for Jersey Shore appear during the Thursday night, new episode airings on the east coast.   Sladden believes social elements and tools like Twitter are driving people to live TV, leading to linear TV having a resurgence.  Twitter is connecting viewers to a live event, and more importantly, with each other.  Because of the temporal nature of the experience, live in real-time is CRITICAL for advertisers and content creators because after the show’s over, no one really wants to talk about what happened in the past.

A second example Sladden brought up was the MTV VMAs.  During the show, an interstitial directed viewers to tweet in their favorite artist hashtag, which incorporated a gaming element since the more tweets an artist received, the higher the artist moved up a scoreboard.  Fans of the band 30 Seconds to Mars immediately took to Twitter and other online avenues to rally fans to boost the band’s ranking.  The call to action on TV led to an explosion of tweets, creating a “real-time feedback loop” that boosted momentum exponentially.

Lila King, Participation Director – CNN iReport (@lilacina)

CNN’s iReport has been around for over 4 years, but with the explosion of mobile devices capable of capturing pictures and video, and the growth of internet access worldwide, citizen journalists are now covering big stories.  At CNN, reporters and producers vet tweets and iReports and determine how these contributions become part of the story.  With the tragedy in Japan, iReports were used in the beginning in order to tell the story when footage was scarce; King says the audience sees what’s happening as a “call to action to tell their own stories.”  In Haiti, iReport was used by citizen reporters as a means for displaced people to get in contact with family members.  CNN built a database of missing people, and CNN cameras were used during downtime to film “I’m alive” videos.  From Haiti to Japan, the big takeaway here is that framing a call to action leads to the most interesting storytelling and above all, social good.


SXSWi 2011

March 10, 2011

Tomorrow I will be heading to Austin, Texas for my first SXSW interactive.  I’m not sure what to expect – will it be the time of my life, or a total mess with 15,000+ attendees all trying to go to the same keynote? Whatever happens, I’m focused on accomplishing my modest goals: meeting cool people, attending thought-provoking and enlightening panel discussions, and digging into some Texas-style BBQ.

After looking over the latest schedule, here are a few of the sessions I’m hoping to attend:

Fireside Chat: Tim O’Reilly Interviewed by Jason Calacanis: I’m not the biggest fan of Calacanis, but my friend Hitesh (@htsh) gave a me a few O’Reilly books and they’re really some of the best technology books you can buy.

The Singularity is HERE: The premise of the discussion is that the time when computers exceed human intelligence is not a ways off, but will be here very soon. My interpretation: Watson is just the beginning, the revolution begins now and soon we’ll have our own version of the Cylons chasing us across the galaxy. I’m sold.

One Story, Many Angles The Multi-Platform Pitch: There’s going to be a bunch of transmedia and multi-platform panels covering how to get your project off the ground, or take a story and make it sing across different channels. I’m looking forward to hitting a few of these panels over the next 5 days.

15 Slides, Three Writers, Three Ways — One Hour: This sounds like a pretty cool session on the art of writing and audience interpretation. Plus I’m a big fan of John Gruber, and his blog Daring Fireball.

Clients Are Not the Target Audience. Users Are: Panel name says it all here. How often are we working on projects where we feel we need to manage a client’s (or boss’s) desires, without thinking of the user?

I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done: I laughed when read the title, but only because it hits close to home. From the description:

Make the coffee, check the RSS, groom the avatar, freshen the blog, make nice with the Twitter, now it’s time to … do the same thing again.

How do we get anything done? Story of my life…

I know I’m missing a bunch of killer panels, so please let me know if there’s one or two I simply must attend. My schedule is jam-packed with so many enticing options, but I know it’s all about being flexible.  If you’re going, shoot me a note at or hit me up on twitter and we’ll grab a drink.