Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two new players challenge the navigation market

While stopped in traffic, have you wanted to read the menu at an unfamiliar restaurant? Now you can do that -- and much more -- with new automobile navigation systems from a very young company and a very old one.

Over the next few months, Dash Navigation, of Mountain View, Calif., and the German automobile giant, BMW, plan to launch new navigation systems. Both companies previewed them at a Mobile Monday event hosted by Google at its headquarters this week.

Dash Navigation showed off a new Web 2.0-type "mashup" for cars; a Web-enabled GPS device that combines navigation -- how to get somewhere -- with information about what you can do, spend or buy when you get there. The information also includes customer ratings and low-price options.

Chris Butler of Dash handled the demonstration, deftly producing a favorite sushi restaurant from a general query. Mr. Butler also showed that the system can receive and benefit from information from a driver's personal computer.

Now Dash uses data provided by Yahoo, but "in the future we might use data from Google," Mr. Butler said, making his listeners -- consisting of dozens of journalists, engineers and business people -- chuckle in between eating slices of pizza, bought and paid for by Google.

The Dash system, presented by Mr. Butler, also shows how much traffic there is and suggests the fastest route to a destination. This is done by collecting data from other Dash users and comparing it with historical data collected, said Rob Currie, President and Chief Operating Officer of Dash.

Mr. Currie, who also was at the meeting, admitted that Dash's che challenge at this point is that there are not so many Dash users in order to provide adequate data for a complete picture of traffic flows. The system is designed to work better the more people use it.

The cost of the Dash system came as a surprise to some in the audience. The device, which will go on March 27th, will cost $599.99. In addition, there is a $10 monthly service fee.

"Why would anybody want to pay that much for traffic information system that has far too little data," wondered an engineer in the audience.

Some popular navigation systems can be purchased for under $200.

BMW, meanwhile, described new features to its existing navigation system, "BMW Connected Drive," which is currently sold in Europe. The product will be launched in the US market in April, said Jeff Zabel of BMW.

Mr. Zabel said the BMW system will make use of a Google application that includes current, accurate maps to be sent from a personal computer to the car's computer.

BMW has in the pipeline an application that allows a driver to browse the Web while sitting the behind the wheel -- hopefully stuck in traffic.

- After Dash was launched on March 27th, it has been tested by customers. Read what the Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg wrote about it.

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