I just returned from a short vacation with a little business mixed in. On the third day of my trip, I realized I needed to check my email. My hotel had free in-room Ethernet connections, but I hadn’t thought to bring my laptop with me. No problem, I thought, since the hotel also had one of those TVs with a wireless keyboard for web browsing. So I turned on the television, punched buttons for Internet access, and accepted the $9.95 charge for 24 hours’ use — a little steep, I thought, but I was only going to use it once.
To my dismay, the service was barely usable. The Web browser in the television seemed to be about Netscape 3.0 level, unable to render new-fangled sites like my ISP’s web mail. Half the text was hidden off the left side of the screen, and there was no horizontal scroll bar. To make matters worse, it operated at dial-up speeds. As I watched the “progress” bar creep along the bottom of the screen, I reflected on why WebTV never caught on. I think it’s because no one ever bothered to get it right before other technologies — small, cheap laptops with WiFi — took over.