Internet everywhere

Show of hands: who remembers WebTV? It was a great idea that was ahead of its time. Today, though, it seems like every product under the sun is Internet-connected, whether there’s demonstrable benefit or not. Sure, there’s an in-dash computer in a Ford F150 pickup allows service techs to browse the web. Is that a good idea?

Tech companies are struggling with the question of whether it’s gadgets or services that consumers want. As the New York Times observes, “If the most exciting thing about your phone or truck or TV is the Web sites you go to and the software applications you download, then the device itself is less important.”

I love the idea of “Internet everywhere”, but I temper that burning desire for ubiquitous access with an understanding of the limitations of the devices I use for that access. If devices can access and install software updates automatically, that’s a good use for Internet access. Allowing service techs to browse the web from a truck’s in-dash computer seems less good to me: surely the shop will have a dedicated terminal from which they can access the Ford website? Why should these guys be rubbing their greasy paws on my GPS system so they can check my cotter pins?

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s scalable. There is no reason to offer the full Internet in contexts where only a little Internet is better. The Internet is also best in non-dedicated devices. Think about in-car entertainment systems with 40 gigabyte drives hidden somewhere in the car. This system will be wonderfully quaint in a few years and downright obsolete in a few more. I’d rather be able to browse the web from my phone than my car simply because the pace of in-car electronics is outstripped by the pace of cellphone improvements.

In short, we don’t need Internet everywhere – we need it where it makes sense.