I heard about this on the radio this morning on my commute and after the initial disbelief wore off, I could not stop laughing. It's called Presto and it is basically a printer connected to a phone line that can receive e-mails and then prints them out. The hardware costs $149 and the service is $9.99/mo. or $99.99/yr.
The commercial was hilarious; some woman past middle age was saying, "everyone uses e-mail these days but I don't have a computer. Fortunately I can receive e-mails with Presto! I just hook it up to a phone jack and e-mails that are sent to me are automatically printed out! I'll never have to deal with difficult-to-use computers at all!" What a riot!
Now that I've looked at the website, though, I'm not quite sure what to think. It's like a fax machine that only receives, and you set up a list of people that can send to you, and all they do is type up a regular e-mail and send it to your presto.com address. It's really like, anyone who uses Presto can receive the equivalent of a letter, except that it's zero effort for you because all you are sending is an e-mail. So, for the Presto user who has no interest in owning an actual computer, browsing the web, or sending e-mails of their own, it's actually kind of a deal. Compared to paying a few hundred dollars for a bare-minimum PC or Mac that might be a pain to deal with (especially with the substandard PCs on the market that lure unknowing customers in with ridiculously low prices), and then having to deal with monthly Internet subscription, which is either lousy dial-up at the same monthly price or broadband which will always cost at least $20/mo., the whole Presto package is not overpriced at all, even with the cost of ink. And, considering that paper is far more legible than computer screens and most potential Presto users would want to print things out anyway, it's basically removing the middle-ware (that whole PC setup) and letting the e-mail get to the printer much easier.
If anything, the computer companies are to blame for making computers so complicated, and the telecoms are to blame for making Internet access such a hassle. The fact that someone can get on a commercial and call computers "difficult to use" and sell an alternative to Internet access that is this complicated just speaks for how messed-up the computer industry is these days. Where are the thin-clients that give people basic access to the Internet and email? The ones that require very little set up and come with low monthly access fees? The ones that are designed to be easy on the eyes and use minimal hardware? The ones for that other half of the population, made up of people who don't really care about transparent windows or file previews? You have to admit, those users have been seriously neglected by the computer industry, and as much as I want to point to something like Presto and laugh and say, "that's a horrible idea, I don't know why anyone would want it," the reality is that I can see exactly why people would want it and it fills a serious gap in the whole computer industry.
p.s.: Presto users get to do all their setup by phone; they just call up customer service, get an address, set up the addresses to receive from, and they are good to go. If they ever have issues, they just call up customer service and get help. When did we get so backwards in the computer industry that reliable customer support via telephone at no extra cost became a feature?