Four Wheels of Technology


Yesterday it was an auto-WiFi startup using pre-CES week to get some ink. Today it’s auto navigation startup Dash Navigation‘s turn to try to get some pre CES-juice by announcing a partnership with Yahoo for local search for its Internet-connected service. CES is starting to sound like an auto show, filled with broadband connected cars. There’s always been the auto-related zone, featuring tricked out cars with sweet entertainment services, but as cars become more like mini media centers, companies are thinking of different ways to add broadband to the equation.

Liz wrote about the Mountain View-based startup Dash Navigation when they came out of stealth in August, and then took a not-so impressive test ride with the crew at the last Demo — hopefully the paper clip-reboot method has been put to rest. The company raised $17 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Sequoia Capital, and Skymoon Ventures.

Dash’s device connects through both cellular and WiFi and will cost somewhere between $600 to $800 with a $12 to $14 per month subscription. Ouch, and you guys were complaining that a $10 per month GPS-navigation service on a cell phone was bad!

Some of you also weren’t won over by AutoNet Mobile’s expensive auto WiFi plan. I chatted with the CEO Sterling Pratz yesterday afternoon and asked him why his $400 device and $50 per month auto WiFi service is better than using a 3G PC card in a laptop. He said that the company manages the Internet session, which keeps the user connected, and more than one person can use it in the car at a time.

If those are the major benefits, we ain’t buying. For AutoNet the question is whether a wide area network like 3G, mesh-WiFi or WiMAX is the best way to connect individuals in cars, or does the car need its own in-car network for connection redistribution. For now connecting over 3G is easier and cheaper.

Both of these connected car startups are actually interesting and are part of a growing trend of cars as connected media centers and personal technology hubs. More and more cars are getting entertainment systems with DVD players, and GPS navigation systems are getting bought in spades.

Most of the major car makers now have an iPod dock as a default, so that we can all get our music fix when driving to work. Ford Motors is betting that technology help from Microsoft can restore some of its lost sheen. Looks like the trend of cramming more and more technology into cars is here to stay, and is getting a broadband connection, too.


Jesse Kopelman

Ford . . . Since when has betting on Microsoft technology to bail you out been a good idea? Just ask all the folks that thought Microsoft would get them IPTV 2 years ago.

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