Putting this up in case it might help other older i3 owners who would like to have Apple CarPlay installed in their cars like me.
After much research I purchased the JoyeAuto retrofit for $419 directly from their website mainly due to the price but also because it is wireless. The Unique AD version seems to be identical (both IDCORE units) but almost $200 more. Not being an emergency, I decided to try to save the money reasoning if it didn't work I could return it. You have to be comfortable receiving technical support via WhatsApp and having a time delay due to time zone considerations. But overall they have been very responsive, helpful and I have had to have extensive communication with them as you will see.
I received the shipment within one week of ordering by DHL. I paid the extra $30 for 3-5 day shipping.
The good news is...IT WORKS!! When I first started down this road I figured I would have a professional installer put it in for me. But due to complications along the way I learned so much about it I quickly figured out I could do it myself and it's really not nearly as complicated in the i3 as in all those videos where they're pulling the dash apart and taking the head unit out and all that. It turns out you don't have to remove anything at all in the dash of the i3. IMPORTANT: The BMW i3 (all years as far a I know, corrections welcome, has the NBT head unit, not NBT EVO). The NBT head unit is under the back seat and almost everything you need to do is done back there and it's really easy to get to, just lift the front edge of the seat to pop the spring loaded clamps loose and then tilt it up and pull it out and set it aside. Do that in reverse to put it back, the main issue getting the seat belt buckles back through their openings but just fiddle with it and it just presses back into place and press down on either side to engage the spring loaded clamps.
Once you have the NBT head unit exposed (passenger side) there are two cables to disconnect, one the LVDS cable (pink and on the right rear corner of the unit) and the 48 pin harness (kind of centered and obvious). Now here is where I hit my only show-stopper. I had ordered the retrofit specifically for the i3 as listed on the JoyeAuto product page but in my case the included LVDS cables would not fit the BMW plugs! After much discussion and sending a photo of the NBT head unit to my tech support contact he basically said "Damn, that's the large head unit. We don't support it yet". So I have no idea if there are i3s out there that have the "small NBT head unit" but I was in the process of requesting a return when he said if I could wait about one week they would fabricate the cables I needed and send them to me, same shipping method I originally used and they paid the shipping.
Once I got the new new cables they still did not fit the original BMW plugs but my tech support contact explained to me that the big difference in the cables was the wiring, that the large NBT head unit is wired differently than the small head unit and these new cables were correctly wired and had been tested BUT I needed to carve off some of the little plastic "ribs" on the plugs, one from their cable and two from the BMW cable. Well, this made me nervous of course but I decided it's the pins in the plugs and the wiring that matters and I was willing to "customize" the plugs in order to get this working. SO I got out my pocket knife and CAREFULLY shaved away one rib on their LVDS_IN "male" cable plug, the one that plugs into the BMW "female" plug the head unit that doesn't have a groove for that rib. It fit no problem. Then there are two ribs on the "male" BMW plug that was previously unplugged from the NBT head unit that there are no grooves for in the JoyeAuto LVDS_OUT "female" plug and so I carefully whittled those off and then the two fit together just fine. Ok, so far so good. I disconnected the 48 pin harness from the NBT head unit. NOTE: There was no optical cable that I had seen discussed elsewhere to remove from the original harness and move to the JoyeAuto harness. I plugged the JoyAuto and BMW harnesses together and then plugged the JoyeAuto harness into the NBT head unit. I plugged the AUX cable into both AUX plugs and the power cable into the JoyeAuto unit. There's a cavity to the left of the NBT head unit where there is plenty of room for the CarPlay adapter. I re-routed the BMW LVDS cable to reach the shorter JoeAuto LVDS _OUT cable. I connected the WiFi antenna and stuck the antenna to the nearby Styrofoam box where some other electrical component is housed. Everything I have discussed so far all takes place and is hidden under the back seat. NOTE: No removing trim, displays, dashboard components, etc to run wires for any of this so far.
The ONLY wires that MIGHT need to be run from under the back seat are the microphone wire and the USB cable and I'll talk about those in detail.
First, at this point I'm thinking the USB cable is not even needed at all UNLESS you want to connect an Android device, not an issue for me as I have an iPhone and the car has a USB plug in the console in case I need to charge the phone. The wireless works so well so far I really don't see a need for the USB as a backup to the wireless. If anything ever changes I can always put it back but for now I'm going to do without it and one less cable to worry about running to the front of the car.
Now, to run the microphone I am not a professional installer and I'm sure there are all sorts of tips and techniques that can be employed to run and conceal this microphone wire but before I did I wanted to test it out and make sure I had it positioned for best results. So what I did was I tried making calls to my home phone in different situations (expressway, frontage road, city street, sitting in parking lot, etc) and leaving messages for myself that I could then later listen to and figure out where the microphone worked best, etc. The bottom line is that the ONLY satisfactory test was when I was sitting stationary in the parking lot (OK) or driving about 40 MPH on a city street (marginal). Driving at any speed above about 40 PMH the sound was just not satisfactory at all regardless of position of the microphone, nowhere even close to the "native" builtin bluetooth and microphone of the i3. So I've ordered what hopefully is a much better quality microphone ($20) with noise cancellation capabilities off of Amazon and I will test it in the same way and hopefully get much better results. The jury is out on that aspect, wait and see.
After following the setup and pairing instructions the unit comes up immediately into CarPlay when I start the car and get past the initial boot prompts, etc and connects wirelessly. The iDrive controls work well for moving around in the CarPlay screen (I have the 10.25" screen and CarPlay uses the entire screen) but takes some getting used to to know when to twist and when to "bump". I really don't see too much need to switch back to the original BWM functions at all except possibly to use the original BT for phone calls if I need better sound quality than can be achieved using the microphone. It appears that once you have switched to CarPlay mode using the Back button long press it just stays in that mode and starts CarPlay every time. I have noticed that when I go into reverse it switches to the backup camera but when I go out of reverse it goes back immediately to CarPlay. I haven't noticed any lag from the wireless like what some people have described with other wireless solutions.
Most of the steering wheel controls work just fine with the exception of the voice button and hang up buttons. You cannot use the "voice" button to invoke Siri, you have to click the iDrive Menu button on the console. That's no big deal. The +/- buttons control the volume. The "scroll wheel" button scrolls the cursor around on the screen just like the iDrive button does. Pressing it is like pressing the iDrive button. So you don't have to take your hands off the wheel to navigate CarPlay. The Mode button doesn't seem to do anything useful. I'm still trying to figure out if it can be used for anything useful and maybe just haven't figured it out. There's no instructions that you can refer to and most of this is just trial and error.
Here's a caveat that I'm still trying to figure out and this is where the tech support and/or documentation could be better and I'm not sure if perhaps this is just an i3 thing. I'm hoping someone reading this will be able to help me find a work-around BUT I've noticed that when I get in the car my iPhone connects to the BMWi62776 BT device. When this happens audio doesn't work in CarPlay, or at least not for some things. For instance, for phone calls, Siri tone and voice, navigation voice commands, music. You can tell the apps work fine, you just cannot hear them. However, if I go into the iPhone BT settings and disconnect the BMWi62776 BT connection then all that sound starts working immediately. I could just unpair my iPhone from the car's BT but I'd prefer not to have to do that. What would be ideal is if I could use builtin BT for the sound input/output but CarPlay to control the apps. Then I wouldn't even need the microphone and I would get the best sound quality. If the new microphone I've ordered ends up working satisfactorily then I'll just unpair the phone and car BT because it won't be needed for anything. Maybe I just have something misconfigured or I just don't understand something. The instructions say to connect to AUX for CarPlay but if your phone is paired with the car it will apparently always connect automatically. SO any suggestions for managing this situation better would be appreciated. I could test them out.
I'll add to this or update the thread if I find other solutions, tips and techniques but overall I'm very happy with this setup (especially at a couple of hundred $ less than other comparable solutions) so far in spite of the hiccups along the way and I've encouraged the JoyeAuto folks to provide the proper cables with the proper wiring and plugs for the i3 in the future so that other customers don't have to make alterations to any cables.
Last edited by bcnbuda
on Mon Aug 12, 2019 9:01 am, edited 1 time in total.