Switched On: Sony's forward Dash

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|02.23.10

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Switched On: Sony's forward Dash
Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
In its introductory press release, here's what Sony has to say about the Dash, a "personal Internet viewer" that it announced at CES: "Featuring a vivid 7-inch color touch screen... Dash utilizes an existing home wireless connection to continuously deliver Internet content to its viewers." And according to its SonyStyle.com site, here's what that Dash has to say about itself: "I use over 1,500 free apps and your Wi-Fi connection to deliver the information and entertainment you crave... right to your bedroom, kitchen or office." But Dash also has something to say about Sony, and for the most part, it's an encouraging message.

Dash was one of the more distinct category-blurring products to emerge from Las Vegas in January. Its hardware is a hybrid between an alarm clock and digital picture frame and its content is a content mashup between Chumby widgets and Sony's Bravia Internet Video Link offering. Dash was introduced just a few months after HP introduced its DreamScreen, another product that provides "glanceable" information from the cloud.

Dash's unusual wedge shape allows it to be used when one is relatively level to it, such as on a desk or nightstand. But putting the Dash on its back so that the thicker part is facing you allows it to be used while standing, a nod to a potential kitchen use scenario. Further facilitating this mode, the Dash's capacitive touchscreen is water-resistant, and the lit Sony logo that appears below the screen when it is in its vertical orientation goes dark when the device is horizontal, thus preventing the Sony logo from appearing upside-down.

The Dash is thoughtfully designed enough to earn praise, useful enough to pique interest, and affordable enough to merit consideration.

Of course, Sony has a long history of introducing products that run the gamut of commercial success -- juggernauts such as the cassette-based Walkman, game-changing collaborations such as the one with Philips that produced the compact disc, pioneering failures such as the Betamax, and jury-awaiting advances such as the Sony Reader. Among more recent standout products that were ultimately discontinued, it introduced the robotic pet Aibo in 1999 for $2,000 , the $500 eVilla Internet appliance discontinued only three months after its 2001 introduction, and Rolly, the football-shaped MP3 player featuring lights and locomotion in 2007 for $400.

Dash, on the other hand, will cost just $199, $50 less than the 10-inch HP DreamScreen, and with far more content available to it. Furthermore, despite Dash's movement-connoting name, and unlike Aibo or Rolly, it will not run away from you, which puts it within reach in more ways than one. To get under the "magic" $200 price, Sony clearly had to give up a few features, a more obvious one being that Dash does not run on batteries. But then, generally neither do its "parent" categories of alarm clocks and digital picture frames.

On the other hand, Dash will cost far more than most of those products, and that is just one of its challenges. Among the rich library of Chumby's widgets -- or as Sony has rebranded them, apps -- there are only a handful worth tuning into, and competition comes in the form of any iPhone or iPod touch connected to a clock dock. Still, the Dash is thoughtfully designed enough to earn praise, useful enough to pique interest, and affordable enough to merit consideration. That signals an improved grasp of reality in the land of make.believe.

Ross Rubin is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.
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