I do not understand why companies intentionally disable products that they release. Like right after college, I bought a very used Ford Mustang convertible, which looked fun and sporty while sitting still but revealed its true identity whenever you tried to step on the gas. See it was one of the Mustang models equipped with a tiny 4-cylinder engine. The archetype of American muscle cars was neutered by putting in a 4-cylinder engine for the sake of squeezing a bit of extra fuel economy.

I feel like Nintendo has done something similar with their Opera browser for the DS handheld. They’ve turned what could have been a fun little Web platform into something horribly crippled. And we’re not talking an accidental crippling — no this was done with full knowledge from the manufacturer. Just like my crippled Ford Mustang.

Nintendo has configured the browser so that, before it starts up, it pings a certain (Nintendo-owned) Web address. Thus, it only works with those Wi-Fi hotspots that are either completely open or have been specially configured to allow this start-up ping.

This means, for example, that I cannot use the DS browser from my favorite bakery, Panera Bread. Because the Panera hotspots, while free, do require that you go through a terms-of-service screen first. You have to click thru that page before it lets you onto the Internet. Since the DS browser doesn’t even start up unless it can first ping the special Nintendo site, you’re never going to be able to launch it from a hotspot like Panera’s.

It also means there’s a huge number of hotels where you won’t be able to use the DS browser. Many hotels and motels use Wi-Fi providers like Golden Tree Communications, which like Panera require you to click a terms-of-service agreement before getting onto the Internet.

Nintendo has partnered with one major hotspot provider, Wayport, which competes in the hotel Wi-Fi space against Golden Tree. Wayport is also the hotspot provider of choice for McDonald’s restaurants. Thus, instead of the normal fee for using the McDonald’s hotspot, I was able to surf it for free using my DS.

This deal seems mostly aimed at drumming up interest in Wayport’s services because, when I tested it out at McDonald’s, I’m fairly certain I was the only person in the restaurant using the wireless service. I took a photo of News.com’s mobile site from the DS browser:

I just cannot understand though why Nintendo is limiting the utility of their Web browser by making it incapable of running in so many hotspots. The Sony PSP’s Web browser works fine on similar hotspots. It’s rather ironic since, in most things, Nintendo has been eating Sony’s lunch the past year. But when it comes to handheld browsers, they’ve fallen behind.

That’s too bad because it really is a good browser implementation. It runs basic JavaScript commands, it seems to support a fairly good portion of the CSS standards, and when you turn off images it loads pages pretty quickly. I browsed the News.com and Google.com mobile offerings, and everything was snappy and rendered without any problems. Google Maps was a bit confusing, but eventually I figured it out. And the mobile version of Gmail worked just fine on the DS. The touch-screen keyboard is a bit tedious, but that’s the only real downside I saw.

Oh well, you knew eventually Nintendo’s run would have to end. They had to stumble sooner or later, and intentionally crippling the DS browser is one big stumble in my opinion.