Thursday, April 3, 2008

Networked GPS Navigation: Dash Express

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed a newly available GPS navigation device called Dash Express. While his trial didn't go flawlessly (the device tried to route him into heavy freeway traffic), the networked device seems to offer some meaningful benefits relative to traditional, stand-alone GPS devices offered by Garmin, Magellan, and others.
  • TruTraffic - Each Dash Express unit is wirelessly connected to the Internet. This allows Dash to monitor traffic speed on various roads and override standard, third-party traffic information with real-time, proprietary traffic information of its own. This could be handy for people who absolutely must get to a destination in the least amount of time and who might be able to choose an alternate route to avoid traffic. This feature, however, is dependent upon a critical mass of users adopting Dash to provide the data required to develop real-time traffic updates.
  • Map and Feature Updates - Dash can push out updates of its map database and new features to Dash Express units via their wireless networking capability. As a Garmin user, I have to connect to the Internet via a USB connection on my computer to update the maps (and sometimes I have to buy the latest versions), so I can see how this feature on the Dash device would be very handy. You'd always have the most up-to-date map / route information, and this feature alone would probably nearly cover the incremental cost of the wireless Dash Service for people who regularly pay to update their maps on other GPS devices.
  • Send2Car - When I use the Garmin, I still normally search for the destination on my computer first, just to get a sense of where it is. I then have to enter the destination into my Garmin Nuvi to tell it where I want to go. Send2Car allows Dash Express users to wirelessly send the destination location information from their computer to the GPS device instead of typing it in to the device directly. It can also be used to receive destination information from others' computers. (So your friends could send you the destination location information, for example.)
  • Gas Prices and Movie Times - While Dash doesn't provide a lot of information on this feature, I'm assuming you can ask the device to tell you the price of gas at nearby stations. It's easy to see how this could be useful and save money, especially while on a road trip. (Well, if the data are good!)
These networking features come free with each device for three months. Thereafter, users can subscribe to the Dash Service (anywhere from $10 to $13 per month, depending on contract length) to continue receiving the wireless networking benefits. Customers who choose not to subscribe to the Dash Service can simply use their device as they would any other standard GPS navigation device on the market.

Given that features such as TruTraffic require a critical mass of users, I expected to see more than a free three-month trial period for the wireless network access. By including the cost of the service in perpetuity (or even for 3 or 5 years, say) for the first 6 months the device is available (or to the first 100,000 buyers, say), I think they could have generated a lot of buzz and essentially acquired their required critical mass very quickly. I largely see the value of what they're doing in the data they collect from their network. If they get to critical mass and own a large network of users, there's not much incentive for competitors to try to replicate it. (Why would I join an upstart network when there's already one out there that works just fine and has lots of data feeding it?) So I would have expected to see them be much more aggressive trying to acquire users. It'll be interesting to see how quickly these devices get adopted. If they're not fast enough, they'll probably find some serious competition from the incumbent GPS device or map data providers.


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