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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dash Navigation Leaks New Info on the Dash Express....Right on Schedule

It's the beginning of the 4th quarter, so that means it's time for Dash Navigation to "leak" more information about the Dash Express. The usual websites and blogs received the first look, and in reading their "reviews", most are little more than Dash's latest press release. This time, though, we do get a closer look at what the final version will be.

In my last article on the Dash Express,The Dash Express: Garmin Killer or Just Hype , I posed 20 questions/observations to Paul Lego of Dash Navigation that I needed answers to before I would purchase one. It appears Dash studied my questions in detail and not only responded, but changed the configuration of their entire product.......or more likely, the Dash Beta-Testers had the same thoughts I did. Don't I have a great ego?

Save 2 buttons on the top of the Express, everything is now controlled through a 4.3" touch-screen just as I advised. Although they don't use the word "cellular" much, Dash did reveal that the Express would maintain constant contact through WiFi AND cellular connections. The Express would shift automatically between whichever was available, thus the connection would be transparent to the driver.

There is a large L-shaped component on the top of the Express which seems from the leaked photos to be fixed. I assume it's the GPS and Wifi antenna; it also appears to be a speaker....a large speaker judging from the size of the Express. Dash touts improved audio in this version and a speaker that size would certainly do it.

A question left unanswered is whether an external antenna option is going to be available. I'm currently using a Garmin Nuvi 360 which I had mounted into the dashboard of my Infinity G35. It looks good, is out of the way, easily concealable, but requires an external antenna as the internal one is blocked. Having a unit as large as the Express mounted on top of my dashboard means every time I leave the car, I'll have to remove it from the mount and take/hide it. Call me lazy, but that's a bit of a pain.

Dash also leaked that the Express will have an internal battery good for 2 to 4 hours. That's much less than my Nuvi but understandable with the wireless connection power draw. It does limit the range you can drive without the Express in it's powered mount, however.

The big mantra in this quarter's Express update is "static POI's BAD, dynamic POI's GOOD. I agree with that to an extent. I'm currently able to download Red Light Camera locations for the US into my Garmin. I doubt Yahoo is going to provide this service. And what about my frequently visited locations: Will the Express have something equivalent to Garmin's "My Locations" or do I have to hit Yahoo every time I go to work for traffic info?

One thing I will state without fear of later contradiction is that, if nothing else, the map display on the released version of the Dash Express will not look like the retro 2001 styled picture they are still showing. It will have 3D capability and auto zoom-in/zoom-out as you approach a turn or destination.

Dash states that the Express now has improved audio, but doesn't tell us what that audio is for.
Turn-by-turn directions, one would assume, but will it be by street name or just "turn left here". Again, considering the sophistication of what information they have released, I'm betting on street name.

We finally have a price! $500, which is more than reasonable considering what the Dash Express offers. It also helps offset the monthly subscription charge (which had better include the cellular connection costs) of $10-$15 per month.

Dash has been floating this monthly rate for a while now. My prediction is it will either be $9 to $10 so people will say "Wow, look at how much we saved!" or it will be $12-$14 with a "special" low price for the first 6 months to a year. Or perhaps $15/mo but if you sign a 3 year subscription agreement, then it's only $X.

Don't be fooled: Dash Navigation knows EXACTLY how much and how they are going to offer and price their subscription service. Aside from their technical expertise, Dash has a marketing team that's nailed this down to a science. My professional background is Operations, Strategic Business Development, and Marketing so trust me, they have a plan......especially for the first year.

The key to the Expresses success will be how quickly they can reach that "1000 cars per area" point. Once the Express has enough data from other Dash users to be REALLY impressive, that's when they have the chance to own the market. I'm sure they're already in talks with major car manufacturers about an OEM version of the Express because that's really the only way to get mass saturation all over the country quickly. At the same time, the car manufacturers are going to want to see a proven product before they commit. If you're going to buy a Dash Express, do it during the first year: that's when the hardware and subscription prices will be at their best.

So as a hard-core GPS fanatic (because I have no sense of direction) and a loyal Garmin customer for over 10 years, what do I think of the Dash Express as we know it now?

One thing that does bother me is that Dash has pushed back the release of the Express to miss the entire 2007 Christmas season, which promises to be a big one for GPS's. Unless this is just another Red Herring by Dash Marketing and they actually release on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year).....and I wouldn't put it past Dash Marketing to do that, they are having issues of some sort which is pushing the deployment into 2008. And the issues must be large if, again, they're willing to miss the entire 2007 Christmas shopping season.

This being said, Dash Navigation impresses the heck out of me. Their executive team is outstanding and their VC financing is from VC Firms that don't back losers. There seems to be a lot of positive energy and excitement among the staff which means it's a great place to work, which means positive innovations will happen.

Dash's only mistake was opening in Mountain Valley, CA. Here in Dallas, TX, we have warehouse, office and housing for a fraction of what it costs out there, we're centrally located, on the central time zone, have large automotive manufacturing plants in Texas, great resturants........and I live here. (email me if you would like to see my resume, Dash).

So as a traditional early adopter of new technology, I'm going to hold off a bit and see what the final product actually is and costs, can read actual user reviews, and see what Garmin and others strike back with. But come August 2008 when its time to buy another map update for my Nuvi, I'll be taking a VERY hard look at the Dash Express. If it lives up to it's promises and Garmin hasn't risen to the challenge, I'll be a Dash Express owner.

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Mrs. Unloadingzone

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