The Internet Without The Computer: 1990s Style

We think of the Internet extending to small devices as a modern trend, but it actually is a good example of how everything makes a circle. Today, we want the network to connect to our thermostat and our toaster. But somewhere between the year 1990 and the year 2010, there was a push to make the Internet accessible to the majority of people who didn’t own a computer. The prototypical device, in our mind, was Microsoft’s ill-fated WebTV, but a recent video from [This Does Not Compute] reminded us of another entry in that race: The Audrey from 3COM. Check out the video, below.

Many devices, like the WebTV, wanted to take over your TV set to save on a display. That doesn’t sound bad today, but you have to remember, the typical TV set in those days was not the high-resolution digital monster you have today, so the experience of surfing the Web on one was suboptimal. The Audrey actually had a cute little screen and a compact keyboard.

The 7.5 inch color LCD was state-of-the-art. There were even USB ports, although the keyboard was IR wireless. Don’t forget this needed to be near a phone line because Audrey had to use its 56K modem that was onboard. A “channel knob” let you download selected web pages without having to understand the complexities of the new-fangled Internet.

The box could do e-mail including handwriting on the stylus-driven touch screen and voice attachments. Honestly, for its day, the Audrey was pretty advanced and ran the sophisticated operating system QNX. The browser isn’t very useful these days, though, because the built-in browser no longer supports modern web protocols.

Everything goes in a circle. One of Audrey’s key selling points was as a personal communication hub. We are seeing attempts to storm that market again. Other appliances slaughtered Audrey in the marketplace. However, the whole category was doomed, of course.

We had forgotten the Audrey, but thanks to [This Does Not Compute] we got a pleasant reminder. We love the old retrocomputers. As mentioned, we had to think of the WebTV (later MSN TV). We do, however, miss our Chumby.