Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Joyride Wants to Liven Up Driving With an In-Car Game Platform (Video)


Whether it’s a commute or a road trip, when we’re driving a car, we’re confined in an isolated bubble — and hopefully we stop messing with our smartphones and keep our eyes on the road, for everyone’s safety.

But what’s the fun in that? “Driving is boring,” according Jeff Chen, co-founder and CEO of Joyride. So he’s building a set of voice-activated mobile games to help pass the time.

Chen insisted that playing games while driving is no less safe than listening to the radio or talking on a headset.

Joyride built a demo Android trivia application that it plans to release in a couple months. In the video below, you can watch me and Chen play the game via a phone plugged into an audio jack, as he drives us around San Francisco. We’re competing against another alpha tester on the platform, though not necessarily at the exact same time (Chen calls this “fake-synchronous” gaming, a la SongPop for Facebook).

Truth be told, I didn’t feel unsafe while we played, but I did think I was pretty terrible at answering trivia questions while interviewing and filming and half-worrying about the road all at the same time. It was also awkwardly difficult to get the program’s attention to give it an answer. But it’s just a prerelease test version, for now.

So why pay attention to an app that’s not even out yet? Chen and his co-founders are good at making apps that lots of people use — their self-funded voice-activated media app Skyvi has been downloaded more than five million times for Android, and their viral Facebook apps startup CLZ Concepts was acquired by Zynga.

This time around, Joyride has a team of four people, with $1 million in backing from Freestyle Capital, Cowboy Ventures, Seth Goldstein and Rob Goldman.

The company ultimately sees itself as a voice-activated driving phone app platform, Chen said, with other people using Joyride to build hands-free apps and help people access entertainment content. That would bring it into competition with automakers like Ford and GM, who are aggressively courting developers for their in-car platforms.

Though Joyride is far from a polished experience today, Chen said he’s confident that a nimble startup that’s building for phones — so it will work in any car — can compete with slow-moving car companies that are locked in their own vehicles.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus