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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Dash Express: a Garmin Killer or just Hype?

When Dash Navigation, a VC start-up company in Mountain View, CA, first started leaking information about it's upcoming (then un-named product), I was very excited. I'm a GPS navigation fanatic, primarily because I have no sense of direction and always get lost.
Dash's original teaser stated that Dash equipped vehicles would anonymously "talk" to one and other, giving you the most accurate real-time arrival times possible. Further, it would compute three different routes based on arrival time, so if the most direct route was backed up with traffic, you would have two other options to choose from. Wow! Where do I get one?

But the silver lining has been coming off this cloud lately. Dash "leaks" information on the Express (they finally named it) very, very, sparingly. Just enough info to keep investor interest up and not a bit more. On Dash's website under News, they list 28 articles and publications touting the Dash Express with some even giving it awards! But in reading these articles, with a very few exceptions, it's as if they were merely copies of Dash's latest press release or website info. No details. No tough questions. Since Dash says the Express will be priced in the upper-end of GPS's (which could be between $600 and $2000, so not much help there), I compared what I could find out about the Express and compared it to the new Garmin 680.

Before I would even consider buying an Express, Mr Lego (the CEO of Dash), here are 20 questions I would need answered first..and their really pretty basic questions:

  1. What are the physical dimensions of the Express? In comparison to the car A/C vent you picture it sitting over, it looks kind of small.
  2. How large is the screen? If the unit itself is small and you have the right side taken up with mechanical buttons (I HATE mechanical buttons), How much room is left for the screen? The Garmin 680 has a 3.81"W x 2.25"H (9.7 x 5.7 cm); 4.3" diag (10.9 cm) screen. The Express's looks a lot smaller.
  3. What kind of display is it? The 680's display is a WQVGA color TFT with white backlight.
  4. How many pixels does your screen boast? The 680 has 480 x 272 pixels.
  5. Is your screen a touch screen or is everything done through those mechanical buttons? I like touch screens: they give you a larger viewing area and are easy to use. The 680 has a touch screen.
  6. Does your unit come with a rechargeable battery like the 680? What kind? How long does it last?
  7. In the end, any navigation unit is only as good as it's accuracy. What chip set are you using? Is the Express WAAS enabled? How long does it take a cold unit to acquire satellites? What is the average satellite accuracy in feet?
  8. All the pictures I've seen of the Express (I think there's only one that keeps getting reprinted) show 2-dimensional maps. Is the Express capable of displaying 3-dimensional maps? 3D maps are MUCH easier to follow, especially when you drive up to a convergence of roads and ramps. You spend less time looking at the GPS, more time looking at the road (this is a good thing).
  9. I see what looks like a speaker button(s) on the Express. Does it give verbal directions as well as on-screen? Does it give turn-by-turn direction by street name (i.e. "Turn right on Elm Street" as opposed to "Make your next right.") The 680 gives turn by turn by distance and by street name.
  10. You say that, while not really needed due to your internet connection, the Express does come with POI's. How many pre-loaded? Can custom POI's and favorite locations be added by the user?
  11. Speaking of POI's, there are dozens and dozens of sites on the internet that allow you to download POI's like all the Red Light Cameras in the USA, scenic driving and historical routes, Starbuck's locations, etc. The reason Garmin is so popular here is because they developed and offer free a piece of software called "POI Loader". It makes it easy to create POI files and easy to download them into your Garmin. I know you have Yahoo, but if I'm driving around and have a craving for a latte, by pressing 3 touchpad buttons, I'll have a list of the nearest Starbucks to my current driving location. I pick one and soon it's caffeine heaven. Do I really want to have to drive and do a web search, via Yahoo or Garmin's MSN direct when I can just press a few buttons? How are you planning, if at all, to respond to POI Loader.
  12. Can the Express be controlled by user voice commands? The 680 doesn't and should.
  13. Let's talk about the internet and cellular components of the Express. From what I can figure out, the car-to-car communication is carried out by a stripped down cellular capability, and the My Yahoo fancy, flashy, and much hyped features like your "Dim Sum" example or the ability for someone to send an address directly from their computer to the Express is internet driven. Where is this internet connection coming from? Are you relying on WiFi hotspots and unsecured home wireless networks? Satellite doesn't seem practical for the amount of users you are projecting: the satellite wouldn't have enough bandwidth do to everything you are promoting. Does the Express itself become a link in a chain of wireless hotspots allowing others to hit the internet off my GPS?
  14. With dynamic content from MSN Direct, the 680 is also "linked in". Using the included receiver and free trial service (it's for 12 months) to MSN Direct, you can check the weather, avoid traffic backups, compare local gas prices and check movie times and locations when you travel with your unit. The MSN Direct receiver is plug-and-play portable, making it easy to connect to your unit when out and about. Aside from using FM instead of internet, how does this differ from your Yahoo offering?
  15. Why internet over FM? WiFi hot spot locations are spotty at best with very few towns and cities offering blanket free WiFi. I envision inputing my Dim Sum inquiry and as the reply page is loading, I drive out of WiFi distance? I may be wrong here, but with the limited info you have put out, it's hard to see where this internet is coming from. Please elaborate.
  16. Kudos to Dash for the constant real-time map updates features. I live in Dallas where the roads change weekly, so that would be a plus for me over Garmin. However, Garmin charges $69.99 for it's latest map update on units purchased before May 1st 2007, free with free overnight shipping for those purchased after May 1st. One of your sources leaked that not only would there be a cost for the GPS, but a monthly subscription fee. He floated $10-$15 per month. Do you think the public would be willing to pay that much just for real time map updates? In Dallas, sure, but in major cities already laid out like NY or Boston? Garmin supplies firmware upgrades free already, either via satellite or as downloads over the internet, so your including those is offers no competitive advantage.
  17. How much is the Express going to retail for? According to Garmin's website, the latest MSRP on a 680 is $964.27. Most retailers will stick to MAP (shame on Garmin) but there are plenty of places on the internet that don't. Even Sam's Club is selling the Garmin 660 (basically the same as the 680 without MSN Direct) for less than $600! I picked up my Nuvi 360 (the same thing as a 600 with a small screen) for $300 brand new in a box. Are you going to be price competitive even considering the advantages the Express offers? What are your distribution channels going to be?
  18. You state that it takes about 1000 cars with Express's in a given area to truly utilize the car-to-car real-time travel time ability. Since only 2% of Americans currently own GPS units and the majority of those are sub-$500 or overpriced dealer installed, how long after the Express is released do you anticipate hitting that 1000+ levels in: a) all major metropolitan areas and more importantly, b) the suburbs and roads-less-traveled? And where on the freeway and especially the roads-less-traveled are people going to connect to WiFi?
  19. You brag that the Express is a down and dirty/"best" navigation system there is. Why down and dirty? Why no bluetooth, no MP3 Player, no Audiobook capability and more? Especially bluetooth: I use Oakley RazorWire bluetooth sunglasses. They're great during the day, but useless at night. I LIKE having bluetooth in my GPS....especially since it downloads my phonebook from my wireless phone, allows me to voice dial, and even has a button that says "Call Home". And I like getting all the above capabilities without having to buy a high-end Pioneer in-dash Car Audio System with navigation for $2000+.
  20. What type of antenna does the Express use? If I want to conceal the unit, is there an external antenna option available? How does the Express mount to the vehicle? Can it be moved from vehicle to vehicle or is it a permanent install?
Now that I've asked my 20 questions, let me state a couple of things categorically. I am not employed by, compensated by, or even know anyone at Garmin International. I chose them for my personal use and as a comparison against the Express because frankly, they are the ones you have to beat.....and of course because I have no sense of direction. I hope the Express lives up to the hype and wish Dash Navigation all the best. When it comes time for me to buy a new GPS, if your unit is truly head and shoulders above and the best and most versatile, then I would bid Garmin a sad farewell. But keep in mind that Garmin has been doing this a LONG time. They're not going to sit back and rest on their laurels. Neither are the other manufacturers eying the 98% of Americans who DON'T have GPS.....yet. Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waypoints - August 4, 2007
10 hours ago in GPS Tracklog · Authority: 83

GPS Hardware Another GPS that includes Zagat restaurant ratings has been announced. Garmin, when will we get this from you? Looks like we'll see a TomTom GO 920 in the not too distant future. 20 questions for Dash Navigation. Via Digg. The Washington Post compares the Garmin nuvi 680, Magellan Maestro 4050 and LG LN740. Garmin wins. GPS software and firmware Garmin has released firmware upgrades for the Legend HCx

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