After weeks of secrecy and some lofty claims, Dash Navigation blew the lid off its mysterious navigation solution at DemoFall this morning. The Dash Express is the first portable nav system to have built-in two-way connectivity (cellular and Wi-Fi) so that you can access real-time traffic information, perform more specific local searches, and do more, via the Internet and the network of other Dash users. Dash actually stopped by our offices late last week to give us a preview of the device. Unfortunately, we didn't get a working demo of the unit and service (it's still all in alpha testing), but we can give you a rundown of how it works and what it has to offer.
First, the device itself is nothing spectacular (though color and some design elements are subject to change). It has a standard 3.5-inch touch screen, and the device includes a nice set of shortcut buttons to easily access the most essential functions, such as main menu, volume, and repeat direction. What counts, however, is what's inside. With the integrated connectivity options, the Dash Express can use cellular networks or Wi-Fi (the unit will search for and connect to hot spots whenever possible) to connect drivers to the Internet so that they can take advantage of the following features.
Dash Network Traffic: The Dash Express takes a two-pronged approach to traffic information. First, the system comes preprogrammed with historic traffic flow data for all major roads, so it has an idea of what the road conditions are like in the area during all times. The real-time traffic data comes from the network of other Dash drivers out there who anonymously report their traffic conditions to other devices in the area. With this information, Dash Express can select from the best of three recommended routes.
Destination Search: Sure, all in-car GPS devices today have a points-of-interest database, but the advantage of the Dash Express system is that you have access to all the resources of the World Wide Web, and you're not limited to just what's preloaded on the device. So, you can input a generic or specific term such as surfboards, and you'll get a list of shops in the area that sell surfboards. Plus, the Dash service will also be able return up-to-date information, such as gas prices at all the gas stations and movie times.
Send to Car: With this feature, you can send an address from your computer's Web browser or Microsoft Outlook, eliminating the need to manually enter addresses on the device.
In addition to these functions, you get all the standard navigation features, such as turn-by-turn and text- and voice-guided directions (no text-to-speech functionality in the first iteration), and as a bonus, all map and POI updates are done automatically and over the air, so you don't have to do a thing. It all sounds cool, right? We think so, too, but until we see a live demo or try it out ourselves, we're a bit cautious with our optimism. Plus, it sounds like the traffic info relies heavily on the fact that there will be a number of other Dash drivers out there. (But what if there isn't?)
Dash did not make any official announcements as to pricing or partnerships with carriers and search engines. However, the company did say the Dash Express will cost around the $600 to $800, while the Dash service will be similar to satellite radio subscription rates ($10 to $15 per month). California drivers will be able to get the product first as it hits select retailers in early 2007, while a national release is expected in summer 2007. Stay tuned as we get more details and take one out for a test-drive.