I’ve followed Dash, the Internet-enabled GPS company, for quite some time (I even tried to be a beta tester), as I utterly love the concept. GPS receivers should obviously have Internet access to download new maps, get traffic data, and then of course do some more clever things. Like have my entire address book and calendar built-in. And have Internet services that call my phone when it’s time to leave if I want to make my next meeting on time. I completely expect the category to standardize around these services in the next few years. In the meantime, Dash is trying to be first to market and grab a comfortable spot.
First, here’s the state of the GPS market as I see it (as it pertains to Dash)
- Dash is competing with massively entrenched, well-known players (Garmin, TomTom, Magellan, Mio, Pioneer, Sony, others, and of course, all the in-car receivers). The best of these companies (listed above in order) make great products, most of which are extremely well-liked by consumers.
- In my opinion, enabling Internet access into a GPS unit is at best a sustainable innovation. In other words, this isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution, and Garmin/TomTom/others probably already have working prototypes with similar functionality.
- Major players are spending a lot of money on advertising (Garmin does Superbowl commercials!).
- It is likely to suffer as an industry as GPS-enabled cell phones become widely available and affordable (which is probably why Garmin has introduced a phone, and is simultaneously facing revenue/sales problems).
So if I interpret these signs, I see a startup attempting to enter a commodity industry with a product that I’ll label as “slightly better”. Before any Dash fans roar at me, I’m not trying to say they haven’t made a great product, as I haven’t used it at all – the key point here is the consumer perception of their product. In other words, to the average Joe about to buy a GPS receiver, the Dash only stands out with one additional feature, and that feature is fairly complicated, which drastically diminishes its true value in comparison.
It’s getting mixed user reviews on Amazon (with 4-ish stars and is placing nicely in the top-25 for GPS), Engadget’s happy, and Walt sorta likes it, the combination of which isn’t enough to help push it over the top. Somehow this Silicon Valley startup needs to get out of the Valley and into millions and millions of peoples’ cars before the rest of the industry catches up. Personally, I don’t see how they get there in time.
At a personal level, friends have challenged me on my doubts, making Slingbox-to-Sony comparisons. Here are the quick differences:
- Slingbox/Sony LFTV was a brand new category to define – Dash is an existing, huge one (that may actually be on the verge of decline).
- Sony’s product was terrible (sure I’m biased, but virtually every single user and professional review backs up this comment), whereas companies like Garmin/TomTom make great products. Further, these products are cheaper than Dash.
- Slingbox averages 4.5 stars from Amazon users (181 reviews as of this writing), and had massive impact from strong word of mouth effects, yet Dash’s user reviews are nowhere near as glowing.
- Slingbox had an instant “I get it, I need it” (or “I don’t need it”) response when people heard about it, one that left almost no room for discussion. Dash has to define itself around existing categories with incremental (albeit cool) technologies. Worse still, Dash has a monthly/annual service fee.
Part of me really wants to see Dash overcome these odds. Another part of me thinks this is a whole lot of money chasing an excessively elusive goal. I believe the company’s best chance at mere survival is through licensing, which is another tricky path to follow on its own.
I hate to say it, but I believe this is one of those disappointing moments where good technology doesn’t appear to have the legs it’s going to need to survive for the long haul. Can Dash navigate these windy roads? Will I come up with yet another terrible pun? Can this post get any longer? Only time will tell.
Updated: while re-reading this, I realized I’m leaving out a key point here: it is entirely possible that the cost structure for running Dash as a company is low enough that they do not need to be a top player in the space. It could be a healthy company without being as big as the Garmin/TomTom/other pool…