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March 2008

The Dash

I am very loyal to Garmin. I think by far they make the best GPS units. The main thing that makes them good is the interface. And I just generally like how it all comes together. And this new Dash is very deficient in many areas… and it looks like the interface sucks a bit. But some of the new features are absolutely killer features. Garmin needs to come out with their version of this ASAP, because this is the future of these things:

Dash Express GPS Full Drive Review: Total Traffic Terminator
(Wilson Rothman, Gizmodo)

• Live real-time traffic – It’s the biggest and most powerful of the four keys, mainly because of how badly GPS traffic reporting has sucked in the past. Dash builds a teamwork system not unlike the original Napster—you got data I want, I got data you want, and that central server will make sure the sharing happens in a fast and orderly manner. As you drive, you not only help others out, but you add useful data to the historical record, so that the plan for your own commute or Friday getaway could grow smarter. As we’ve said before, once each metro area is seeded with a few hundred Dash units, the traffic reporting becomes exponentially better. The funny thing is, what we’ve already seen, with just a handful of units on the road, was already better than anything to date thanks to the historical data which runs in 15 minute increments, and therefore knows the difference between weekends and rush hour. If you’re wondering who is working on the traffic modeling, it’s a couple of eggheaded PhDs in Traffic.

• Live search – Most navis have search features, but they only query a POI database of an average of 5 million or so. Dash only has 1 Million built-in points of interest, but its better 99% of the time. That’s because it uses its GPRS cellular connection to ping Yahoo Local search for stuff, delivering better information in the exact same amount of time. You can save search terms you like as favorites, alongside addresses and, yes, standard POI categories. Oh, Yahoo local searches are returned by relevance, not sorted by proximity, but most things can be resorted and gas can even be resorted by price.

• MyDash web interface including Send2Car, GeoRSS and other features – With a quick browser plug-in, you can highlight any address and right-click, selecting the option “Send To Car.” You can even highlight name and address, but for now you need to leave off the phone number. Within a second or two, the address pops up on the Dash, which could be at your side, or miles away. Blam found that entering addresses on the web interface was actually more effective than typing them on the Express, since the server can do a better job of fuzzy-matching the data you type. There are plug-ins to allow you to send any text to the Dash unit by right clicking text and selecting “Send to Car.”

In MyDash, you can browse “saved searches” for dynamically updating data—a POI-like request (“CVS” or “Sushi”) gives you a Yahoo Local search criteria that you can send to the Express. But you can also copy GeoRSS and KML feed URLs from around the net at sites like and Chowhound, containing more exotic and time-dependent stuff—”Nationwide Airport Delays” and “California Surf Report.” For the most part, everything we tried worked, save a Craigslist RSS of Seattle real estate. (But GeoRSS feeds are kind of tricky to find in the wild.)

• Over-the-air updates – The Express uses any open Wi-Fi network it can to pull chunks of update down as you drive around. You can teach it your SSIDs and passwords for best Wi-Fi, but it’s not necessary. Dash will deliver a few different kinds of update that we’ll cover below; the important thing is to think about the last time you updated your Garmin or TomTom. Your answer is most likely “never.” If you have, you probably paid a lot to do it. Dash of courses charges $10 to $13 per month subscription, but promises a constantly evolving platform in return.
-Traffic data will be updated monthly, using historical data from Dash drivers. That means that the first one will be a good ‘un, as the first crop of users starts putting on the mileage.
-Big map updates will come every six months or so, about the same time Tele Atlas will release to other vendors.
-The first major software updates with bug fixes and new features (see below) will come this summer, and then every three months or so.
-MyDash servers can be updated on a weekly basis, so new web features could be appearing all the time—not that they will.

I want a Garmin version, but this still excites me. And the traffic is NOT just on major highways, but on side roads too once the system starts getting enough users to have data on those roads. Very very cool.

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