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Dash Express is Killing Its Device? Sad. And Smart!

Dash Navigation has announced that it’s going to stop selling the Dash Express, its clever, well-reviewed Web-enabled GPS unit. Instead, it’ll focus on licensing its technology to manufacturers of other gadgets–in-dash navigation systems, smartphones, netbooks, and the like–and it will cut its staff (reportedly by two thirds) to reflect its new direction.

For a company that helps people figure out how to get where they’re going, Dash had trouble charting its own course: Dash Express only started shipping in March, and so never had a chance to succeed. (It didn’t even make it to its first holiday season.) Even if Dash Navigation’s plans always involved licensing its technology and its own gadget existed mostly to demo the idea’s value–and I’ll bet that was the game plan all along–I can’t imagine it intended to get out of the hardware business after eight months.

On one level, this is sad news: Dash Express was an impressive product, and if I didn’t own a car with built-in GPS, I’d probably buy one. (Those that did buy the device should be okay: Dash says the service will continue.) But long term, I think that the company is doing the right thing, even if it’s doing it more hastily than it expected.

We’re pretty clearly in the waning days of the era of multiple gadgets, in which a rational person might buy and tote a phone, a GPS unit, a media player, a digital still camera, a video camera, an e-book reader, and maybe even another pocketable gizmo or two. Much of this functionality will merge into smart phones like the iPhone; some of it will be wired into cars via automotive computing platforms like Ford Sync. It hasn’t all happened yet, but most of it surely will over the next few years.

(At the moment, the digital camera seems like the device least likely to be replaced by the phone…and I can’t imagine point-and-shoots disappearing entirely anytime soon. But I betcha that the best camera-phone cameras will get surprisingly good surprisingly soon.)

Bottom line: I think the future will see fewer successful makers of hardware–especially small ones, like Dash Networks–but will have plenty of room for smart software and service companies. And even though I now know I’ll never own a Dash Express, I hold out hope of using the Dash technology in some form someday…


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