Summary:

A new startup backed Turntable’s Seth Goldstein plans to make connected software without the car. Joyride is building a gaming and entertainment suite for the smartphone designed to be entirely hands-free.

Joyride founders Jeff Chen and James Zhang
photo: Joyride

Automakers are coaxing entertainment apps out of the smartphone and into the dashboard, turning the connected car into the next big mobile services platform. But a new startup in San Francisco called Joyride is wondering why you would even bother with dashboard software development if the tools for making a good in-car app are already in the smartphone.

Joyride is creating a voice user interface for the smartphone designed to function much like the voice command-and-control systems in your car. Founders Jeff Chen and James Zhang created Skyvi, a voice-assistant app for Android that received 5 million downloads. With the help of $1 million in seed funding, they’re now building similar voice-interaction technology into Joyride with the aim of creating a game, entertainment and education platform that is fully hands-free. Though you could use its app anywhere, Joyride CEO Chen said, it’s most useful within the restrictive confines of the car.

Joyride screenshotJoyride plans to launch an Android app in the next few months — right now it’s in a private beta — and its first service will be a trivia game Chen described as “a hands-free version of Words With Friends.” But Joyride plans to layer more games and services on top of the app, and will eventually invite outside developers to embed their own applications into the Joyride app framework.

“Think of Joyride as a portal,” Chen said. “It’s an enabling technology intended for people to build things on top of.” Joyride would be the overarching brand and its voice technology would not only power the apps themselves, but allow you to navigate between them. The first Joyride apps will be games, but Chen hopes to layer on any manner of service that lends itself to voice interaction, from audiobooks and music streaming to highly interactive language-learning apps.

Joyride makes use of the car’s stereo system through an auxiliary jack or a Bluetooth connection, though the app doesn’t actually tap into any connected car software or OS — it’s just using the speakers. From there, all interactions are done via voice — it makes use of Google’s speech API — requiring  no actual physical input, Chen said. The approach also has the advantage of making the app car agnostic. If you can connect your iPod to the car, you can connect Joyride.

Joyride’s $1 million seed round comes Cowboy Ventures and Freestyle Capital as well as from angel investor and Turnable.fm co-founder Seth Goldstein, who is also Joyride’s executive chairman.

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