Posts From July 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
10:27am: Just called Walmart and Best Buy to see if they would be selling the TouchPad tomorrow.
The lady in Walmart electronics had no clue what I was talking about. She apologized that they would not have them, and that perhaps later they would and I could call and check again in a week or so.
The guy at Best Buy told me they had one on display already, that they had none in stock and that it would be a few days before they got any. I had a sneaking suspicion he didn’t realize that tomorrow was the official launch day of the TouchPad, so I say to him: “Since tomorrow is the day they officially launch, can you look to see if any Kansas City Best Buys will have them in stock?”
He replies: “Oh. Well if they go on sale tomorrow, then we will have them. It’s just not showing up in our inventory yet because it’s not on sale.”
So that settles it. Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading to Best Buy. Will there be a line?
Friday, July 1, 2011
7:15 am: Should I head over to Best Buy now, or wait until they open at 10:00 am? I cannot imagine that there will be more than a few people there at opening to pick one up. Unless there are other tech writers or nerds in Kansas City. Are there any?
Going early to stand in line for an iPad or iPhone has always been fun. You know there’ll be a group of folks there whom you can talk to, and so getting there plenty early is never an issue. Getting to Best Buy plenty early seems more like a faux pas rather than an event. I think I’ll wait.
9:30 am: Leaving for Best Buy. I decided that even if there is a line, I don’t want to stand in it. Standing outside of Best Buy just seems awkward to me, rather than fun.
9:58 am: I drive in to the Best Buy parking lot, and there is no line. As I am parking I see a manager walk out of the store and wave his arms in the air with a “come on in” motion. About a dozen folks all get out of their cars and begin walking toward the door. I think to myself how amazing it is that all these people are here for the TouchPad. Though once we all got into the store, only two of us were looking for TouchPads.
I am one of the first to walk in the doors, and the first display I see is for iPods. The electronics section of the store is toward the right, so I head that direction. I pass the cell phone counter, a display for iPhones, then the Apple section of Best Buy and a display for iPads and MacBooks. Then I pass the display for a Kindle and a PlayBook. Then, the TouchPad. It’s display looks no fancier or newer than any of the others. It’s just there.
Next to the TouchPad was a plastic, fake display version of the Veer. I looked around the display but did not see any TouchPad boxes available to pick up and purchase. Moreover, the display was in pretty poor condition. It was a 3×5-foot table with a display in the center.
It’s just me and one other guy interested in the TouchPad (I sped-walked for nothing). A customer service guy asks the two of us if we need help. I ask him to get me a 16GB version, and my new friend wants a 32GB. We also ask about covers but apparently they are already on back order. (I think in Best Buy when they don’t have something, the default answer is that it’s on back order because it makes the item sound more popular.)
While we’re waiting for the TouchPads, the other guy and I small talk about the TouchPad versus the iPad. His wife has an iPad and there’s no way she’d give it up. He loves webOS and he’s very excited about the TouchPad; he’s owned an iPhone before and didn’t like it as much as his Pre.
I say nothing about how I’ve owned every iPhone and iPad and that I am only here because I want to see if the TouchPad stacks up.
The Best Buy employee returns with our TouchPads. I go check out and return home.
11:04 AM: I have now set up my own WebOS Account so that I can activate the TouchPad and begin using it.
11:37 am: I’m recording some rapid fire thoughts into a voice memo.
- Trying to find a Twitter app. The only one I can find is SpazHD for Twitter.
- Everything is slightly annoying, just a little bit slow.
- The card view is killer. Love it.
- The time is right next to the battery icon, but I thought it was the time left in the battery. It is now 11:38, but that means 11:38 in the morning not 11 hours and 38 minutes left on the battery.
- Typekit does not work on my site. (Note: I found out later from Typekit that they intentionally blocked the TouchPad until they could do proper testing to ensure that their fonts would not cause usability issues on the webOS Browser.)
- The keyboard has little emoticons.
- When taking a screenshot you see a giant yellow orb.
- It appears that instances of a browser are not isolated to the browser app.
11:54 am: Text selection bugs me; Cut/copy/paste is awkward at best.
Something that I love is that I am always just one tap from common settings like turning on/off Wi-Fi, adjusting brightness, etc.
3:04 pm: Go to browser help, and discover there is a place for live help chat. So I jump on, and only have to wait for 1 minute. I start a live chat with “Seth” trying to figure out how to add the Instapaper bookmarklet. (All typos in the transcript are [sic].)
- Seth: Hello.
Thank you for contacting HP webOS customer support.How can I help you today?
- SHAWN: Hi seth. I’m trying to create a bookmark in the browser, from a URL that is not a webpage.
- Seth: Okay.
- SHAWN: Is there a way to manualoy add or edit the adreses es of bookmarks?
The examples are for adding a website’s rss feed to Google reader, and adding a url to Instapaper.
- Seth: Follow the steps to create a Bookmark.
Can I have 3 minutes to work on the issue?
- SHAWN: Of course.
- Seth: Thank you for staying onhold.
Open the page you want to bookmark.
Open the application menu and tap Add Bookmark.
Does that make sense?
- Seth: Yes, I got it.
- SHAWN: I tried pasting the address cor the bookmarklet, but the page has to load in order to add it as a bookmark, and the browser treats it as a Google search.
- Seth: Can I have 2 minutes to work on the issue?
- SHAWN: Of course.
- Seth: Thank you for staying on hold.
We can only add the Bookmark it it is a webpage.
- SHAWN: That is unfortunate. And there is no way to edit the URL of a bookmark once it has been created?
- Seth: Yes, we can edit the bookmark once it is created.
Open the application menu and tap Bookmarks.
Edit the bookmark name: Tap i to the right of the bookmark name. Enter the new thumbnail, title, or URL and tap Save Bookmark.
- SHAWN: Okay, can I try that real quick?
- Seth: Sure.
I will stay connected.
This is for a web app called Instapaper http://www.instapaper.com
- Seth: Did you try editing this webpage and open from the bookmark?
- SHAWN: Yes. I was able to get the address stored, but was then given an error: "Cannot open MIME type"
- SHAWN: Okay. Can this be filed as a bug?
However, I will put forward your concern to the development team.
- SHAWN: Okay. Thanks, Seth.
- Seth: You are welcome!
Can I be of any further help?
- SHAWN: Nope. Thanks though.
- Seth: My pleasure!
Thank you for contacting HP webOS customer support and feel free to contact us for further assistance.
3:54 pm: Downloaded Paper Mache. I can at least use it to read my Instapaper queue. Ryan Watkins gets it. This is a classy app that serves Instapaper well.
5:29 pm: Attempting to get music onto the device. You can run it in USB mode and add DRM-free MP3s. Or you can download HP Play and sync music from your iTunes account to the TouchPad, just like you would on iTunes.
6:44 pm: After plugging it in and ejecting it a couple times from the "USB mode" something changed about the OS. The background turned to a grey slate, all my open apps went away, all my downloaded apps that were in the Launcher disappeared, and certain bits of functionality stopped working.
7:02 pm: I can not figure out how to power down the device. I assumed that you simply hold down the lock button, like you do on an iPad, and that it would power down. However, it's not working for me.
Reading through the instruction manual there are no obvious instructions about powering the device off. Though, I did finally read that I was attempting to power the device off correctly. Alas, my attempts to power it off are not working. There must literally be a bug in the OS that won't allow me to power the TouchPad off.
Fortunately, Martin Dufort reminded me that perhaps there is a way to force reboot the device. I held down the lock and home buttons and it forced a reboot. Afterwards things came back to normal.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
4:41 PM: Log into Mint to check my site stats. It seems that the browser on the TouchPad is the fastest and most responsive app in the whole device. Though Web pages load a bit funky at times, they do load quickly and are very responsive.
4:59 pm: Friends will be arriving for the BBQ birthday dinner tonight, so I grab the iPad to go hook it up downstairs and stream Pandora. But I remember that I’m committing to use the TouchPad for the next week. So I search the HP App Catalog for a Pandora app.
Lo and behold there is one, but it is not TouchPad optimized. No matter, I download it because it’s free.
I heard that some apps that are not TouchPad optimized may not run on the TouchPad. Since Pandora is free, I figure why not give it a shot. It downloads and runs just fine.
When Pandora is running, you get the typical Pandora controls on the front of the TouchPad’s Lock Screen. However, you can’t control the music with those buttons. How odd.
In fact, this is something that is a bit frustrating. Though the Lock Screen displays notifications (such as new emails, Twitter replies and DMs, new IMs, etc…) you cannot act on those notifications.
10:01 pm: After running Pandora radio for 5 hours the battery only drained 13-percent, from 86 to 73.
10:23 pm: perhaps a better Twitter client has arrived? Check the App Catalog. Nope, Spaz HD is still the only one.
10:32 pm: Hey, what's that magazine I heard about? The one that showcases apps? It's not advertised on the Catalog home page, nor is it listed in the featured section of the Catalog.
Ah, I read here in this paragraph of text that the magazine is called Pivot. I guess I have to search for it on my own...
Hmm. Apparently it's not in the catalog; a search for Pivot brings up no results.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
9:00 PM: In an attempt to test the limits of webOS’s multitasking capabilities, I begin opening as many apps and web pages as I can. I launch 15 cards (5 browser cards, email, the App Catalog, pondNotes, Paper Mache, Memos, Spaz HD, Photos & Videos, Music, Video and Voice calls, and Calendar) and then a blank notification appears in the top-right of the screen along with an accompanying alert sound and slight buzz.
I assume this blank notification has something to do with alerting me that there are a whole lot of apps open and I should do something about it. But it’s blank, so I ignore it.
One thing I do like about this notification is that I can continue to use the TouchPad even while the notification is showing. In iOS things come to a halt when a notification appears. Though, never has iOS notified me that I should be a little more prudent in my app launching endeavors.
I go into the Twitter app, Spaz, and find a link. Tapping on the link normally would have opened a new browser window. However, in this case it slides me all the way to the far-left browser card and brings it up. And then the blank notification pops up again… And that Twitter link never did open.
Monday, July 4, 2011
8:30 am: Marinating some BBQ chicken for grilling later tonight.
9:30 am: With a hot cup of coffee in hand, and a relaxing July 4 holiday ahead of me, I'm ready to do some reading. I've searched many times for an RSS reader in the HP App Catalog but there are only a couple, and so far as I can tell none of them sync with Google Reader.
I launch google.com/reader but am greeted with the standard view, which is literally unusable on a touchpad. Is this how it works on the iPad, too? I use Reeder so I actually don't know, but surely there is a way to read your RSS feeds from a touch screen.
I launch google.com/reader on my iPad and am redirected to the mobile version: google.com/reader/i/. Returning now to the TouchPad I manually type in the mobile URL and am greeted with a usable version. (In some ways, I'm a bit bummed that I won't be forced to read my RSS feeds on the iPad.)
10:45 am: Since the Kindle app is still unavailable, I am curious about how the TouchPad handles reading. I do a lot of reading on my iPad through Instapaper, Reeder, iBooks, and a few magazine apps like Wired and The New Yorker. I remember there being demos on the HP TouchPad website about their reading apps, so I go there to see if I can find something.
The whole website has changed. Now there is far less information about the TouchPad and instead lots of links to go buy one.
Side note: Those Russell Brand advertisements are horrendous.
The only reading app that I see advertised is Time Magazine. So I pick up my touchPad, launch the App Catalog and search for Time. It's free to download and you can subscribe to it for $2.99/month which includes both the print and HP TouchPad Edition delivered each week. The first 4 weekly issues are free. If you like, you can just get the digital version for the same price.
Honestly I do not feel like signing up for this. I have a gut feeling that it will be a poorly rendered PDF version of the magazine, and that navigating and reading it on the TouchPad will be more maddening than entertaining. However, for the sake of science, I feel that I must. Maybe later...
10:52 am: I am still wanting to get ahold of their App Catalog app, Pivot. It still does not appear in the search results when trying to find it in the App Catalog. I decide to launch Help and start a live chat with a service rep asking if they know.
The Help screen is taking a while to load; perhaps the TouchPad needs a reboot.
I go out to the card view and begin closing some apps. There are a few websites open that I want bookmarked so I email them to myself. Suddenly, the screen goes blank and I see the glowing HP logo.
10:53 am: I just crashed webOS.
10:57 am: Okay, back to the App Catalog. Well hey, would you look at that! Pivot is now front and center on the App Catalog app. How did they know?
11:04 am: Pivot is a great idea. It's a magazine all about app discovery, which, since Friday morning, is something I have had a hard time with. In theory it looks like you should be able to buy the apps from within Pivot. However, the purchase links are all stuck to the top-left corner of the screen, and you have no idea which purchase link is for which app.
I thought I was re-downloading the Kindle app (because based on Pivot it seems that the app is ready and available), but I actually ended up downloading Royal Opera House. Whatever that is.
11:07 am: I download HP MovieStore (which is powered by Roxio). This is apparently where you can download movies and TV shows right to your TouchPad. Alas, it seems to have the same development team as Kindle...
Now I'm curious if the Software Manager is supposed to notify me when updates are available or if I have to hunt them down myself. I launch Software Manager and am presented with a list of all the Apps I have installed. About 10 seconds later a green button appears at the bottom of the screen letting me know I have 3 updates available.
11:43 am: Okay, I take back what I said about being able to read feeds on the TouchPad — I can't. Sure, I can get Google Reader's mobile version to load, but it doesn't exactly work like it should. Loading more items pops you back to the top of the list, and marking all the currently viewed items as read does just that but without a refresh of new unread items.
The TouchPad may tout that I get the full web because it's Webkit-based browser supports HTML5 and Adobe Flash. But it does not appear to ever want to render the full web in a usable fashion.
11:45 am: I found a good use for Flash: Rdio.
11:57 am: A notification appears informing me that Paper Mache, the Instapaper app, is syncing. I don't even have Paper Mache running. My first thought is, hey, that's fantastic! My second thought is, wait, how much is this affecting my battery?
3:08 pm: Trying to watch the latest episode of Put This On. The Vimeo flash player isn't working well. So I bust out the iPad, because it's about time there was a head-to-head competition between these two. The iPad pulls up the .MOV file splendidly, and plays it in full-screen with no trouble whatsoever. Thank you, iPad.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
10:41 am: The Internet just went out. Delightful.
2:19 pm: With no Internet, I've decided to start writing the review itself.
6:45 pm: Wrote a little over 3,000 words today. Maybe the Internet should go out more often.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
8:41 am: Still no Internet.
8:45 am:I transferred over some old Superman cartoons because that’s about the only DRM-free video I have around here. (One day, if I ever own a Mac Mini I suppose I’ll get around to turning all my plastic video media into digital).
The video transferred over just fine, though the low-resolution cartoon looks pretty crummy. But hey, that’s half the fun, right?
12:58 pm: There are still some final bits of research I need to do and I need an Internet connection. So I am heading over to my local coffee shop to work. The second-half of this review may come across as more caffeinated than I originally anticipated.
10:26 pm: Internet's back!
10:56 pm: Finally published my review. I am a bit surprised by the conclusion I ended up with. I truly did expect the TouchPad to be more than it was. But that’s why I titled the article “The HP TouchPad 1.0”. I think webOS has a bright future. The operating system does seem mostly suited for a tablet device, and I think that with more refinement the TouchPad could be the number two tablet. But, that is not what it is today. It’s buggy and awkward.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
10:18 am: Time to either return or sell this thing.
In the Settings pane there's a way to do a secure erase. I erase the TouchPad, power it off, and put it completely back in all its original packaging and plastic wrap.
Before posting it to Craigslist I decide to call Best Buy. I let them know I bought it last week, but that I don't like it. They have no problem whatsoever with me returning it. So I do.
But if you’ve specced one out online, then you may be wondering what’s with the i7 option. You can pay $100 to upgrade to a 1.8GHz Core i7 processor. However, Apple doesn’t say much about the difference between the two other than the negligible speed bump and the slight increase in L3 cache.
So, what is the difference between a MacBook Air with a Core-Duo i7 rather than an i5? Actually, not much.
There used to be a big difference between the i7 and the i5, related to Hyper-threading — the i7 had it enabled and the i5 did not. Hyper-threading means that though the Dual-Core i7 is physically a 2-core processor, virtually it can act as a 4-core processor (assuming the software can take advantage of the virtual cores by multithreading).
But for the new mobile Sandy Bridge processors that the MacBook Airs are using, the i5 now has Hyper-threading enabled. This is great news and it means that the i5 MacBook Air is comparable to the i7.
But that doesn’t answer if $100 is worth it for the i7. If you plan on using your MacBook Air for several years and don’t mind spending an extra C-Note, then I do think the i7 is worth the money. I went with the i7 option but only because the local Apple Store had them in stock.
If you don’t know or don’t care about the i7, then you won’t be missing out if you save your money or buy a nice laptop case instead.
[Updated 07-21-11 at 5:30pm: This article originally stated that the i5 did not have Hyper-threading enabled. Turns out I was way off, and I apologize for the error.]
Lion is the finest version of Mac OS X to date. It’s the sort of operating system nerds would go stand in line for… if they could. But instead you can download it right now (assuming you haven’t already).
Over the past several months I have been using the early developer previews of Lion. For me, it is not the headline features of Lion that make it such a compelling and noteworthy release. Rather, it is the thousand little refinements that all add up to what is, in my opinion, the most attractive and usable operating system on the planet.
There are some big things in Lion that stand out as the hallmark features — such as Launchpad and Mission Control — but these are not so much features as they are usability enhancements. And to me, that is what Lion is all about: enhancements.
There are a thousand subtle changes that all add up to something fine. Scrollbars have been removed and now only subtly appear when you are actually scrolling. Buttons are now a more classy square shape. Many icons are now monochrome. For the next several months you’ll be stumbling across all sorts of things that look or act better than they did in previous versions of OS X.
Even Safari’s default page for “You are not connected to the internet” has been massively updated. The old version was jarring; the new one is gorgeous. How many thousands of times have you seen that stark white page because a server wasn’t responding or the public wi-fi was acting up? It has always been jarring to me, and it’s been that way for years. But now, in Safari 5.1, you see a classy, well-designed error page. It is much more inviting and friendly. The former was ugly, but the current is art.
Here’s how Safari 1 looked when you reached a page that wasn’t responding, or if you tried to load a site while your computer wasn’t connected to the Internet:
And Safari 2:
Safari 3 and 4:
And now, Safari 5:
This “You are not connected to the Internet” design is, in a way, the quintessential example of what is different between Lion and all the previous versions of OS X before it.
There are many things like this sprinkled all throughout the OS. There are many subtle refinements which, when experienced, you don’t just think I’m glad they added this, because this is cool. Instead, you think how is it that OS X never had this before? This is the way it should be.1
And so, herein is a list of miscellaneous thoughts and observations about the greatest operating system on the planet:
Perhaps the single most notable new feature of Lion is Launchpad.
With the advent of Launchpad in Lion there are now three built-in application launchers in Mac OS X: The Dock, Spotlight, and Launchpad. It just goes to show what a hurdle it is to handle application installation, organization, and access. In conjunction with the Mac App Store, Launchpad is, in my opinion, a fantastic way to store and access applications.
But do I actually use Launchpad? Nope. Primarily because Launchpad is mouse friendly and I live and die by the keyboard. To activate Launchpad you take four fingers on the trackpad and pinch them together. It is awkward at best on my 2008 MacBook Pro even though I bought a Magic Trackpad to use with Lion. I much prefer to Command+Space into my application launcher of choice: LaunchBar.
The second most notable feature of Lion is Mission Control. Mission Control is sort-of like Exposé on steroids, and I use it because there is no way not to use it if you use Exposé. But, I don’t think to myself how happy I am about Mission Control.
Mission Control truly shines if you use Spaces — which I do not. I have all my application windows stacked on top of one another in just one Desktop space. And so, Mission Control, while more organized and intelligent than Exposé, is not significantly more useful to me.
If you use hot corners they have been improved as well. The hot corner for showing all the windows of the frontmost application now also displays a coverflow-like view of all recent documents:
The Mac App Store
The more I use the Mac App Store, the more I appreciate it. It is great to have all your apps centralized in one hub. You can download them onto any computer and all you need is your Apple ID. It makes switching to a new Mac or setting up a new install much simpler.
The way it works differently in Lion is that apps you download go into LaunchPad, and then the LaunchPad Dock icon bounces once. This is far more elegant and scalable than the way apps installed in Snow Leopard, which was to download right into the Dock.
I have a love-hate relationship with full-screen apps. Partly because I love screen real estate. But full-screen apps seem to have been made with laptops in mind. Most of the apps look great on the smaller screen of a laptop, but not so great on a larger display.
I have this not-so-special theory that Apple’s flagship Mac is the MacBook Air. Full-screen apps scale best on smaller screens. I believe that Lion has been, in a way, specifically designed for the Air.
Some changes to an operating system are instantly welcomed, while others take time to get used to. Mail is in the latter camp. It goes without saying that this new look for Mail on the Mac has a very big nod back to Mail on the iPad. I did not like this all-new look at first, but now I have grown to appreciate it.
There are a few bits that I still do not appreciate, however. Such as: (1) the way a new reply message “bounces out” from the original message; and (2) the way a message window slides up and off the screen when you send it.
For those who cannot handle the new look of Mail, there is a setting to go back to the original layout under Preferences → Viewing. Note, however, that even when reverting to the previous layout, the aforementioned annoying animations will still be there.
Perhaps my favorite new feature in Mail is the enhanced search capabilities. When searching for a particular email you are offered suggested search terms — not unlike Google suggestions — that recommend people, subjects, attachments, etc. These search suggestions are both intelligent and useful.
And my favorite new design element in Mail is the look of the popovers you see when adding an event or creating a new contact — both of which are very nice.
Auto-Saving and Versioning of Files
Not all apps auto-save just yet. And for those that do (specifically TextEdit and Preview), I haven’t yet decided if it’s a service or a burden. It’s nice that you can quit without worrying about saving or choosing a spot to save, but I primarily use TextEdit as a scratchpad, not as a writing tool. I am always tossing bits of text into TextEdit that usually have a short lifespan. So, whenever I quit TextEdit, I have to CMD+W and then CMD+Q.
Quitting doesn’t prompt you to save, but closing a window does. I find this behavior to be equally great and maddening. If you don’t want to restore windows when you’re quitting and re-opening apps, you can turn it off in System Settings → General. Though, there is not an option for asking you to save on quit. If you quit with unsaved documents, then they are restored when you open the app again.
Version control, however, is fabulous. Not that I use it often, but it is done so very well. You get to it by hovering over the top titlebar in an application and clicking on the triangle that appears.
You are then presented with some options to revert to the last time this document was saved, lock this version, duplicate it, or compare versions.
Comparing versions launches you into a TimeMachine-esque zone where you have the current version on the left and a pile of previous versions on the right.
Various UI and UX Changes
The Apple logo on the boot-up screen is more “letterpressed.”
When launching an app, the window launches from the center of the screen and opens up outwards, like an app does in iOS.
The classic stop-light buttons in the top-left corner of all windows are now a more muted red, yellow, and green.
The icons in the Finder window sidebar are now all monochrome. Personally, I like the new color scheme of more muted colors in some areas and the monochrome in others. To me, it all feels more refined and less frilly.
Plug and Play with an External Monitor
I adore the way Lion manages laptops and external monitors. I find it much more user-friendly than the way previous versions of OS X have managed it.
The tried-and-true behavior of how OS X deals with a laptop and an external monitor has been this:
With the laptop lid closed and the computer asleep: Plug an external display, wake the computer, and the external display will be the only working display. If you were to then open your laptop lid while an external display is running, the laptop’s screen stays off.
With the laptop lid open and the computer awake: Plug an external display in and you have two working screens. If you were to then close your laptop lid, the computer would go to sleep.
In Lion, this behavior has been greatly improved:
With the laptop lid closed and the computer asleep: Plug an external display in, wake the computer, and the external display will be the only working display. If you were to then open your laptop lid, the laptop’s screen would turn on and you have two working monitors.
With the laptop lid open and the computer awake: Plug an external display in and you have two working screens. If you were to then close your laptop lid, the laptop’s screen turns off and the external monitor becomes the only working monitor.
In short, opening and closing your laptop’s lid is like adding or removing a second display, and does not affect putting the computer to sleep.
It may sound silly, but this is perhaps one of my favorite new features in Lion.
Once you get used to the rubber-band scrolling of list views and windows there is no going back. As I mentioned above, I have been using the Developer Previews of Lion since March. When switching over to Snow Leopard, the lack of rubber-band scrolling was the most annoying “missing” features. It is one of those things that once you get used to it, it feels completely natural.
The Dashboard got an unfortunate makeover. Ever since OS X 10.4 Tiger I have found the Dashboard extremely useful. Partly because I use the Mint web-stats widget, but also because I keep a calculator, the calendar, weather, and a few sticky notes there. Hitting F4 to invoke the dashboard is nearly second nature. But now, instead of zooming into focus like it has since 2005, the Dashboard is its own space that slides over from the left. And it brings with it a new dotted background texture which I find highly unattractive.
If you want to return your Dashboard to its previous look and behavior, you can do so by unchecking the option to “Show Dashboard as a space” within the Mission Control settings in System Preferences.
Application windows now have rounded window corners all around. Previously, only the top-left and top-right corners were rounded. Now all four are. And, speaking of application windows, there is less window chrome in general. Thanks mostly in part to the new scrollbar.
The new, minimalistic scrollbar is copied and pasted right out of iOS. It only appears when the window you’re in is moving, and it’s intelligent enough to be a dark color on a light background and a light color on a dark background.
Other tidbits include:
The ability to grab any edge of an application window and resize it. (Try holding Shift or Alt while doing so.)
The toolbar in the Finder window no longer has that dotted division line that you can put into a Finder window tool bar.
Lion implements iOS-style auto-correcting of spelling. It literally looks just like on the iPhone / iPad:
It is great at catching misspellings, but I find that often times it will auto-correct to the proper spelling of the wrong word I was originally trying to spell.
If the new auto-correct really irks you, you can turn it off within System Preferences → Language & Text → Text. I appreciate it, but it needs a bit of babysitting from time to time.
The Hidden Library Folder
The ~/Library folder is now hidden. If you want to see it, a simple terminal command will unhide it:
chflags nohidden /Users/YOUR USERNAME/Library
In the Dock you can choose to not display the blue icon orbs that glow to show that an app is active. In Dock Preferences there is an option to show indicator lights for open applications. These are turned off by default. Apple wants to eliminate the concept of an app running or not.
This concept won’t be fully realized until Macs are running SSDs and applications launch in split seconds, which means the option to not display the indicator lights for open applications is good news for all of us.
Lion is what OS X was meant to be: refined, attractive, and user-friendly.
As we’ve heard so many times from Apple, this is a “Back to the Mac” operating system. But Lion is more than just elements that pull from what we see and know on iOS. It is also full of hints that point to the future of Apple hardware and the amalgamation of iOS and OS X. It is exciting to see this big picture slowly coming into focus.
- However, one glance at the hideous new iCal UI and my theory is shot to pieces. ↵
The iPad makes a fantastic reading device:
It carries all types of reading material in it at once: the books and magazines I’m reading, my RSS feeds, and any other Internet articles I want to read later. Its versatility in this regard is primarily what makes the iPad such a great reading device.
The battery lasts forever. There is little to no stress or issues related to using the iPad for long periods of time.
Since it’s connected to the Internet, I can get the latest news, buy a new book anytime I want, and download the latest magazines as soon as they’re available.
There are a few cons:
Though the iPad is thin and relatively light, it is not very easy to hold with one hand. And even when holding with two hands it still gets a bit heavy after holding it for a while.
You can’t read outside on a sunny day.
The iPad does not have a print-quality display like the Kindle or iPhone. And though the current display is not bad, a retina display on the iPad would certainly make the reading experience better.
My iPad’s primary function has always been as my reading device. I read and skim headlines in Reeder, I use Instapaper to catch up on articles I came across during the day, I read ebooks in iBooks, and I read Wired and The New Yorker in their respective apps.
Ironically, the worst reading experiences are with the apps designed by the “professionals” that are based on the age-old history of reading in print: Apple’s own iBooks, and the Condé Nast apps. The best reading experiences on the iPad are Instapaper and Reeder. In part because they are easy to keep up-to-date, but also because their designs have the least amount of frilly bits, and therefore make reading of the actual text the easiest.
A few months ago Frédéric Filloux wrote an article on Monday Note about the Publishing Failures on the iPad. In short, Frédéric’s point is that it’s nice to have your magazines all in one spot and delivered there via the Web, but there are some deal-breaking shortcomings. Such as: the time it takes to download a media-rich magazine app (in Frédéric’s case it took a few days for an issue of Vanity Fair), and the quality of reading on the iPad isn’t yet superior to a printed magazine.
Anyone who’s spent time with a magazine-ported-to-iPad app (such as the ones from Condé Nast or The Daily) knows the pain of having to wait for the app to download. When downloading an issue of Wired, you literally cannot do anything with your iPad but let it download the magazine issue. They weigh in around 300 MB and easily take 20 or 30 minutes to download on a decent Wi-Fi connection.
Downloading is the biggest of the pain points, but that’s not to say that once you’ve got an issue of the magazine onto your iPad that the reading experience is wonderful. It’s not so much in the layout itself, but in the attempt at being magazine-like. While I somewhat appreciate and enjoy the unique layout of the magazine articles, there is still something to be desired.
I don’t think the magazine industry has failed on the iPad, it just hasn’t hit a home run yet. This is what Frédéric was saying, and I think it’s what most of us would nod our heads to as well. In short, it’s time for the magazine industry to step it up.
There are no easy answers for content publishers right now, which is why in some ways they can hardly be blamed for their iPad enthusiasm — at the very least, they aren’t ignoring the sea change that tablets represent. Perhaps like many of us, they need to fail their way to success. That’s a legitimate strategy, and if they’re nimble enough to recover from these wild miscalculations before it’s too late, then I applaud them for it.
More likely, they will waste too many cycles on this chimerical vision of resuscitating lost glories. And as they do, the concept of a magazine will be replaced in the mind — and attention span — of consumers by something along the lines of Flipboard. If you ask me, the trajectory of content consumption favors apps like these that are more of a window to the world at large than a cul-de-sac of denial.
The strategy that these apps are following is a stand-in for true experimentation. True, it gets something into the market that can then be learned from, iterated and evolved. But in truth it’s really just stalling.
The default reaction of most print publishers since the advent of the Internet has almost always been “Let’s make it just like print.” It’s been tried again and again and it never works. So the fact that publishers are trying it yet again on the iPad doesn’t strike me as experimentation at all. There might be a grain of truth when we say that this is “an experimental year” for publishing on the iPad, yes. But that doesn’t mean we also need to repeat the same mistakes that we made when Flash promised that we could make Web sites flip pages like print magazines, or when the Web was still so new that the only model we had to understand it with was print publishing, or when CD-ROMs tried their best to recreate magazines in ‘multimedia’ form. Those lessons have been learned already.
The Print Mindset
There is a mindset that says printed content is of a higher quality and value than online content. Or, put another way, content in printed form has value simply by virtue of being printed. Therefore, the content provider is justified in selling that printed content, yet has a hard time selling non-printed content.
In part, this is due to soft costs versus hard costs of content creation and distribution. People don’t mind buying a magazine because they know there is a hard cost involved with printing it. On the Web the hard costs are less obvious to the average consumer; some people have a difficult time understanding the need to pay a company to cover its soft costs.
There is a history of value and novelty associated to the printed word. How can publishers build upon that value and novelty while fully embracing new technology and its delivery formats?
Randy Murray, in an article on the digitization of magazines, wrote:
While you can make a fully digital copy of a magazine, you lose something when it no longer exists as a separate, physical object.
And so — perhaps intentionally, or perhaps unintentionally — digital magazines that replicate their printed versions are, in some ways, feeding on the mindset that printed content has a higher value and novelty than digital content does.
They replicate their printed magazines in digital format because they are trying to convey some of that perceived quality and value that historically comes with the printed page. The reader may not be holding a piece of paper, but at least they’re looking at what would be the printed page through the window of their screen.
Unfortunately, replicating print onto a digital format doesn’t best serve the problems of great user experience, sharing through social media, and taking advantage of the rich media possibilities our iPads provide. It does, however, appease the publisher’s need to convey value with their content.
A Better User Experience
I don’t have the answer for Condé Nast and the other publishers about precisely what to fix in their distribution models and their layout and interaction designs. I do, however, have some thoughts about what is valuable and worthwhile to me as a reader.
For starters, here’s what I care about in a magazine subscription on my iPad:
Notify me when there’s a new issue.
When downloading the latest issue, I want an option to keep past issues downloaded on my iPad or else remove them. If removed, I want to be assured that I can download them again for free anytime I want.
When downloading the latest issue, the app should take advantage of iOS multitasking and complete the download in the background whenever possible. When it’s done downloading, it should notify me that the magazine is ready to read.
The app should remember where I left off reading when I quit it, and put me there again when I return.
I want the articles to be easy to read and have an attractive layout. I am a big fan of form and function, but never should the former win out over the latter.
One area of trouble with digital distribution of magazines on the iPad is that they’re trying to bridge a gap between two very different, but great, user experiences: print and iOS. A printed magazine has the tactile feel, 300 DPI text and images, and a long, rich history. iOS has animation, rich media, user interactions, and more. Digital magazines have been trying to find a middle ground between the two, and it’s not easy.
Instead of trying to find that spot between print and iOS, they should leave the historical traditions of print design altogether. Instead of leaning on the perceived value of a physical printed periodical they should look to the iPad’s new value of delight, ubiquity, and instantaneous digital access. Moreover, they need to find better ways to bring their articles to their iPad readership. Magazines need to cater their layout design and interaction design to the iPad rather than attempting to fit the iPad around their previous print-tested designs.
A “media-rich” article in Instapaper means there are inline images between paragraphs. Every article in Wired, however, is media rich with its custom graphics designed to compliment each article, fancy text layouts surrounding the graphics, and other frilly bits.
And while I appreciate the customization and care surrounding each article found in Wired or The New Yorker, wouldn’t it be something if the magazine industry took a few cues from Instapaper and Reeder? What if, instead of fancy, two-column layouts they had simple, large-type layouts that you could scroll through? Because, honestly, it’s the forced pagination and multitude of various layout designs that I dislike the most when reading in a magazine app.
Apps like Instapaper and Reeder offer more of a “reading environment” (like a library); Wired and The New Yorker are more like an amusement park with words. One isn’t better or worse than the other, but people who like to read a lot certainly don’t spend the majority of their reading time at a noisy amusement park.
Especially our workflows.
Nerds tinker. We are always wanting to learn, dissect, and refine the minutia of the systems, tools, and toys that we use every day.
It can be easy to tinker too much. But I think it’s a far greater error to not tinker at all. For the workflows we live in every single day, it’s folly to simply set it and forget it.
When a new operating system ships for my Mac, that’s when I do my most serious tinkering. I always prefer to do a clean install so I am forced to re-evaluate what I want to keep on an app-by-app basis.
A new operating system is a good reminder that it’s healthy (and for a nerd, fun) to take time out to do a workflow audit. Now is as good a time as any to reassess the tools you’re using and how you’re using them.
Maybe it’s time to find a more advanced tool. Or, maybe it’s time to switch to something more basic. How can your processes be enhanced? How can they be simplified? Does something need to be added? Can something be removed?
When I do a major workflow audit like the one I’ll be doing this month some time, there are several things I look at:
- What software do I no longer use or need?
- What files can I archive away onto a backup drive?
- What files can I delete?
And for the stuff that sticks around (which is the majority), it’s a great time to assess that software as well. The most demanding systems and tools that I engage with daily are:
- How I manage and accomplish my to-do list
- How I manage and control my email
- How I organize and read my RSS feeds
- How I check and interact with my social networks
- How I write and publish content to my website
- How I discover new things to link to and write about
The above systems and their tools each require their own audit. But, because each inbox and system interacts and interweaves with the others, a look at the entire workflow is also needed on occasion.
Our lives are ever-changing. As is our data. Our interests, our priorities, and our availability are always on the move. It’s worth the effort to take a long, hard look at our systems and tools. We want to make sure they are still the ones serving us and not the other way around.
After nearly a week with the new HP TouchPad and webOS 3.0 my overall impression is that the TouchPad is less than the sum of its parts. There is nothing the TouchPad does that the iPad cannot except play Flash video (sometimes). I could not find one feature or function that was significant or compelling enough to take the TouchPad seriously compared to the iPad.
What webOS has that iOS doesn’t is not so much found in a feature comparison as opposed to functionality differences. webOS has some very clever approaches to common tasks and needs: such as the popular card view approach to fast-app switching, global notifications, and a few other things. And though I consider webOS to be very clever in certain areas, I do not find it to be fun.
The TouchPad comes in a high-quality box with much attention paid to the packaging. It feels exactly like the box an iPad would come in. The cardboard is the same type of thick semi-gloss board. In fact, it is so similar to the iPad box that on the back of the TouchPad box it even says, “Designed by HP in California.”
When opening the box you don’t lift off the top, you slide out a drawer. The TouchPad itself is wrapped in plastic and underneath it you find a sunken cardboard “pouch” with a thumb tab to pull it out — just like you would find underneath your iPhone or iPad. The cardboard pouch says, “Now comes the fun part.” Inside there are a few documents, including the users manual, and a microfiber cloth with the HP logo embossed in the corner. The only thing missing are a couple of white HP stickers.
Next to where the TouchPad sits is a compartment holding the micro USB cable and the charging wall wart. They are both black and high quality. The wall wart is a round spherical shape with prongs that fold in and out.
When I picked the TouchPad up from its box the first thing I noticed was how much heavier it is than my iPad 2. Though, by the numbers, the TouchPad is nearly the same weight as the original iPad and less than a third of a pound heavier than the iPad 2.1
After using an iPad or iPad 2 for the last 18 months, the plastic back of the TouchPad instantly felt cheaper and flimsier. The whole shell is bendable and flexible. If I were to hold the device in landscape mode with one hand on each of the two sides I am confident that I could twist and crack it.
There are some cases when the friction of the plastic back is welcomed. Since it provides more friction than the aluminum back of the iPad the TouchPad is easier to hold or carry without fear of it sliding out of my hand. However, due to the TouchPad’s weight, it is not any easier than the iPad is to hold in portrait orientation using one hand while reading.
On the top of the TouchPad there is a Lock button on the right and a headphone jack on the left. The right side of the device has a volume rocker at the top, and at the bottom is a small pop-out tray with the devices serial number. The bottom of the TouchPad has a micro-USB input. The left side has stereo speakers — one on each edge.
There is no toggle for mute/orientation lock. However, you can quickly access both of those options via a settings pane which is available from anywhere at any time. But more on that in a bit.
On the front of the TouchPad is a camera at the top and the Center Button (Home Button) is on the bottom. The center button is not round, it’s a thin rectangle with rounded edges — the size and shape of a long Tic-Tac. What I like about the Center Button is its thin LED bar which slowly pulses when you have a new notification. Pressing the Center Button will turn on the screen if the TouchPad is locked, enable the Launcher if you are in Desktop/Card view, or it will take you to Card View if you are in an app at full screen.
The screen itself is the same Gorilla glass as the iPad and is just as prone to fingerprints.
To power the TouchPad on or off you hold the Lock button. If the device completely freezes up on you (which has happened to me once) you can hold the Center and Lock buttons simultaneously to force a power-down.
A Landscape Disposition
My TouchPad loves to be in landscape mode. If I’m holding it in portrait orientation I have to watch out because it will rotate into Landscape at the hint of a tilt. Trying to get the screen to then rotate back into portrait usually takes several seconds. Sometimes I shake it up and down to see if that will help but it never does.
Plugging the TouchPad into my Mac via the USB cable brought up a prompt on the device. It told me that for optimum charging I should plug it into the wall. Or, if I wanted to use the device in USB mode then I could. If the latter, you have to tell the TouchPad to go into USB mode.
While in USB mode, the sceen shows a giant USB logo and your computer shows a device named “HP TOUCHPAD”.
USB mode gets you access to certain files and folders on the TouchPad: A PDF titled “Open Source Software Information”, and 5 folders titled: downloads, wallpapers, screencaptures, ringtones, and DCIM. A sixth folder will show up if you download the HP Play app to your computer in order to sync iTunes music to your TouchPad’s library. But more on that later.
Moreover, you can add your own files and folders here (such as a folder with DRM-free music and videos, as well as documents, and/or photos) and the TouchPad will find them and they’ll appear in the relevant apps to display or use that media.
This has been my first extended experience with webOS. The software feels far more engineer-y than I expected it to. This is a broad generalization, but I think it gets the point across: if webOS sits somewhere in between the utilitarian appeal that is Android and the emotional appeal that is iOS, then it is certainly closer to the utilitarian side than I expected it to be.
Highlights of webOS include notifications, multitasking, and a quick access pane to common settings. Lowlights include maddening performance on the TouchPad, a shortage of fine apps (built-in apps included), and several dark corners which need refinement to the user interface and user experience.
I have heard so many good things about webOS that I was truly expecting to be impressed by the TouchPad and to enjoy webOS. Alas, using the TouchPad for the past week has not been impressive or enjoyable. And it’s not for a lack of apps — I was able to find a native TouchPad app for nearly all my “killer app” needs.
There is a significant difference between missing features and broken ones. Features do not a user experience make. In the back of my mind all the while I was using the TouchPad, I kept thinking to myself, “so close, yet so far.”
webOS has an amazing fast-app switching functionality out of the gate. The system-wide notification system is very nice — there is an addicting little settings pane which is available at any time and lets you adjust brightness, etc… But just because there are features of webOS that I would love to see find their way into iOS, I would rather use the iPad and iOS of 2010 than the TouchPad of today. Because webOS — as clever as it may be — is not a delight to use. It is slow, awkward, and requires a great deal of determination.
Or, put another way, webOS is clever but not fun.
Booting up the TouchPad takes about 1 minute and 10 seconds. (For comparison: my original iPad boots up in 26 seconds; my iPad 2 in 24.)
While the TouchPad is booting up the HP logo sits centered on the screen. As webOS gets closer to being fully loaded the logo begins to pulse with a white glow coming from behind it. The closer it gets to being loaded the quicker and more radiant the logo pulses. When the TouchPad is finally booted it chimes and vibrates.
When you start up the device for the very first time you activate it without ever connecting it to a computer, though not without connecting it to Wi-Fi. During the initial setup you are asked to sign in with a pre-existing HP webOS Account or else create a new one.
Setting up my new HP webOS Account was very easy. I was given the options to add email accounts and calendar accounts to my TouchPad.
webOS offers MobileMe as an option for email, but it won’t sync with my MobileMe calendars or contacts. It does sync with Google calendar, contacts, email, and documents but, alas for me, all my calendar and contact info is in MobileMe. You can also sign in to an Exchange account, Yahoo, your own IMAP server, or look for other services.
Once you’ve set your first email account up, you can add more. Or if you want to add more later, you can do so from the Launchpad → Settings → Accounts.
Having a webOS account means your TouchPad will automatically back itself up, over the air, once a day. My most recent backup was completed this afternoon at 2:26 as the TouchPad sat in my bag while I was working on this article at a local coffee shop.
From the Backup settings page on the TouchPad:
Your HP webOS Account and other personal data (including potentially sensitive data that may be provided during the use of the device and its features) are backed up automatically every day. This data is stored on secured servers used solely for recovery purposes.
HP hosts a web page listing exactly what does and does not get backed up. Some notable things include the apps which you’ve downloaded via the App Catalog but not their settings and data. Website bookmarks and cookies are backed up, as are memos, and messages and conversations via SMS, MMS, and IM. Photos, videos, and music are not backed up and no passwords are backed up, just usernames.
In short, if you dropped your TouchPad in a lake and had to start over with a new one, certain media would not be recoverable (music, photos, videos) unless you had it backed up on your computer, but the overall setup of your TouchPad (apps, accounts, and some settings) would be restored.
For the paranoid at heart you can disable automatic backing up. And if/when you do, all your backup data that is stored on HP’s servers will be erased. You can, of course, turn backups back on again at your convenience.
The webOS browser is based on WebKit. It supports HTML5 and has a working version of Adobe Flash.
Web sites without a lot of Flash load very quickly. And there is virtually no lag when scrolling around on a web page. On several common websites that I visit, once the page had loaded I had no trouble scrolling down as fast as the TouchPad would let me and I almost never saw checker boarding.
However, the TouchPad’s browser does not render all sites perfectly. I noticed on a few sites where header divs seemed to get cut off a bit too soon on the right-hand side. Moreover, the TouchPad does not render TypeKit fonts; though shawnblanc.net still looks quite handsome on the TouchPad.
After visiting my site with the TouchPad and then checking my analytics, Mint logged the TouchPad’s browser as “Safari 534.6″ and the Platform as “Linux”.
Flash works better than I expected but worse than I’d like.
I was unable to watch a 720p video on Devour’s home page, but I was able to watch some shorter, lower resolution videos from YouTube and Hulu. I also was unable to watch the latest episode of Put This On without it stuttering and downsamping to a lower resolution. So, while waiting for the episode to buffer on the TouchPad, I pulled out my iPad, navigated to the site, and watched the the show in full-screen at 720p resolution. Stay classy, Flash.
In the browser’s settings you can disable Flash if you like, or you can choose to not have it autoload and play when you visit a site. However, the device requires a reboot for the preferences to take place. I had selected to disable Flash yet Flash videos were still viewable and even Rdio worked.
On the iPad, which doesn’t have Flash at all, most video sites serve you the native video file with no trouble. On the TouchPad, when Flash is disabled, you get nothing:
In theory, the TouchPad gives you “the full web”. In reality you get less.
The 5 apps that come in the Dock are Web, Email, Calendar, Messaging, and Photos & Videos. Additional apps that the TouchPad ships with are Memos, Maps, Contacts, Phone & Video Calls, and Music.
What the Home screens are to iOS, Launcher is to webOS. You can bring up Launcher three different ways: (1) by tapping the arrow icon found in the right-hand side of the Dock; (2) by clicking the Center Button when in Card view; or (3) if you enable “advanced gestures” under the settings for Screen & Lock then the Launcher can be brought up at any time by swiping up from the bottom of the screen no matter what orientation the device is in.
The Launcher has four tabs across the top: Apps, Downloads, Favorites, and Settings.
The Apps tab contains default system apps. Downloads contains a link to the HP App Catalog and is where all the applications you download from the App Catalog go. Favorites is empty and waits for you to populate it, though if you save a Web page as an “app” then it will appear in the Favorites tab. The Settings tab is where the all the different mini-apps are kept for managing accounts, backup, bluetooth, sounds, software updates, etc.
You can move the apps into any tab and into any order you like by tapping and holding them. A grey box appears around the icon and then you can move them as you see fit. And apps you have downloaded from can be deleted by tapping the “x” that appears.
The App Catalog
Finding and downloading an app from the App Catalog is simple enough. You can search on your own, or look through lists of the most popular, or most paid for, etc.
As of this writing, the vast majority of apps in the Catalog are designed for the Pre, not the TouchPad. Fortunately, above the button to buy/install an app it will say “For TouchPad” if it’s optimized for the tablet. According to HP there are over 300 TouchPad-ready apps in their Catalog.
When buying an app you have to enter your HP webOS Account password and then confirm that you do in fact want to purchase the app. If you are downloading a free app you are not asked to authenticate with your password.
When you download an app it installs behind the scenes without kicking you out of the App Catalog. This is quite nice. As the app is downloading the “install/buy” button turns into a loading bar, and once it’s installed it turns into a “launch” button:
I very much appreciate this behavior and would love to see something similar in the iOS App Store. One common hit against webOS is that its App Catalog has far fewer offerings than Apple or Android. My “killer apps” on my iPad are: Instapaper, Simplenote, OmniFocus, Twitter, and Reeder. I was able to find 3 of these apps in the HP App Catalog, along with a few others:
For Instapaper: Paper Mache is the Instapaper app for webOS. The developer, Ryan Watkins, is clearly an Instapaper fan. The app has all the functionality of Instapaper on the iPad, plus it is able to sync in the background. Even when the app itself is not running.
For Simplenote: pondNotes is the Simplenote app for webOS. Though it is not as elegant or quick as Simplenote on iOS, it is functional and so at least you can have read/write access to your notes.
For Twitter: Spaz HD is currently the only Twitter client for webOS. I wish there were other options. And, alas, for some reason I was unable to log in to twitter.com and try the mobile version of the site on the TouchPad.
For RSS: There is not yet an RSS reader that syncs with Google Reader. And using Google Reader’s mobile web app on the TouchPad is nearly useless. It does not render or operate properly in the TouchPad’s browser. And so, the first significant workflow problem I encountered with the TouchPad was an inability to read my RSS feeds.
Pandora: They have a native webOS app, but it is built for the Pre. However it does work on the TouchPad. Pre-sized apps run in their normal size inside the outline of an HP Pre.
Kindle: The Kindle app is coming, but right now it is just a placeholder. You get the familiar launch screen as the Kindle iPad app, and it tells you thanks for downloading and that they’ll let you know when the app is actually available by sending a notification through the Software Manager.
For Writing: TapNote is a very nice writing app, and perhaps the nicest app I’ve downloaded from the Catalog. It cost me $5 and is a bare-bones plain text writing app that syncs with Dropbox and has full-screen mode. I found it much more appealing and usable than pondNotes. If I were going to do long-form writing on my TouchPad it would be in TapNote.
Exhibition: This is one of the default apps that ships with webOS 3.0 and it is also one of the finer bits of good design on the TouchPad. It is a simple, full-screen app that displays the time, upcoming agendas items, or photos. I’ve always been a fan of the flip-style clock design, and the TouchPad’s looks great.
Dropbox: There is not a Dropbox app in the Catalog, but rather a system-level sign-in for Dropbox. You go to the Launcher → Settings → Accounts → Add an Account → Dropbox.
To set up your DropBox account you simply type in your login credentials. It doesn’t authenticate at the time of adding because I added my account without a problem despite the fact I had no Internet connection at the time.
Your Dropbox account can then be accessed through the native apps on the TouchPad. Though the only app that I know of which accesses Dropbox is QuickOffice. It will let you view your documents and photos, but you cannot save them to your TouchPad, nor can you edit them. In fact, so far as I can tell, there is no way to edit documents or spreadsheets on the TouchPad.
Cards and Fast-App Switching
The way webOS handles app switching with its card view is one of the premier features of webOS. I like it, and the more I get used to it the more I understand why some users don’t want it any other way.
Switching between apps by seeing the current screen rather than the icon feels much more natural and user-friendly. If you’ve ever wished that fast-app switching on iOS was more akin to the way you switch between multiple “browser windows” in Mobile Safari then you’ll know why card-view switching in webOS can be so pleasant.
If you are working between two apps, or you open a new app and want to switch back to the previous one real quick, it can often mean scrolling several cards over. iOS attempts to solve this automatically for you by sorting the apps in the task switcher by the order in which they’ve been opened. In webOS you can solve it manually by rearranging and even stacking your cards. You do this by tapping and holding on a card — it will go semi-transparent and then you can move it around.
webOS will let you open as many apps as you like until you reach the limits of your nerves or the TouchPad’s hardware — whichever comes first.
In my own attempt to test the limits of webOS’s multitasking capabilities I was able to launch 15 cards (5 browser windows, email, the App Catalog, pondNotes, Paper Mache, Memos, Spaz HD, Photos & Videos, Music, Video & Voice calls, and Calendar). At this point a blank notification popped up in the top-right corner of my screen along with an accompanying alert sound and a quick vibration.
I assume the notification had something to do with alerting me about the amount of apps I had open. But it was literally blank so I had no choice but to ignore it. It disappeared after a few seconds, but when I tried to launch a website from within Spaz, the Twitter app, I was taken to the leftmost browser card and then the same blank notification popped up, and the Twitter link did not open in the Web page.
However, when not connected to the Internet the TouchPad handles multiple apps much better. When not online I was able to have 23 cards open without a problem or a blank notification.
Apps remain open until you quit out of them. You do so by flicking the card up and off through the top of the screen. When you toss a card away it makes a nice “whoosh” sound.
Something fun: if held in portrait orientation with the speakers on top, pulling down on a card makes a “crunching” sound, and then if you let go at the last second the card flies up and off the screen while shouting, Weeeeeeee! Here’s a homemade video of this in action.
Another perk of webOS’s multitasking capabilities is that apps can update in the background if they want, even if they are not launched at all. Paper Mache, for example, can update its Instapaper queue so that it’s always up to date whenever I launch it.
There is no way that I have found to quickly and simply scroll to the top of a page or a list view. In iOS you tap and hold the top of the status bar. In webOS if you’ve reached the bottom of a website or are 30 deep in your email inbox, you have to scroll, scroll, scroll all the way up.
Secondly, you know how in iOS when you start scrolling down on a web page then the scrolling will “lock” in and it only scrolls down and up no matter if you move your finger left or right? The TouchPad doesn’t do that. The web page follows the movement of your touch pattern to the letter.
Here is a chart illustrating those differences in scroll behavior for iOS and webOS:
Music and Videos
To get music onto my TouchPad I started by launching the music app. It told me to go to hpplay.com or copy music to my device while it is in USB mode.
So I put the device into USB mode (as discussed above) and since there was nowhere to put the music I decided to create a folder titled “Music”, put some DRM-free MP3s in there, and assumed that the TouchPad would find them. And it worked — once I had ejected the TouchPad from my laptop the songs appeared in my Music app and I could play them in stereo.
Next I add some protected M4P files that I’ve bought from iTunes. I put the TouchPad back into USB mode and the files copied over just fine and they even showed up in the TouchPad’s music library. But the tracks would not play. No errors or anything; they were simply unresponsive to the play button.
So then I downloaded and installed HP Play (which is currently in beta) onto my MacBook Pro. (HP Play looks like what an app would look like if someone built an iTunes clone using Adobe Air while imagining the year was still 1998.) I transferred over those same DRM M4P files from before as well as some m4a songs, but this time by syncing them via HP Play. The M4A files played just fine, the DRMed M4P files would not.
HP Play does not sync video to the TouchPad. Which means the only way to get video from your computer to your TouchPad is to transfer it manually with the device in USB Mode or buy it from HP’s Movie Store app. I copied over some video files and they showed up in the Photos & Videos app just fine. The title of the video is the name as its parent folder. Protected videos, such as those I’ve bought from iTunes, will not play on the TouchPad.
And the HP Movie Store app? Well, like the Kindle, it is also MIA.
System-wide notifications are the other premier feature of webOS. They work the way a notification should, by being simultaneously useful and unobtrusive.
Because just about any app can hook into the notifications, you can be notified about anything: new email, new mentions on Twitter, new Facebook messages, instant messages, the current song playing, and more. If you Pre is paired with your TouchPad then you can also get text and MMS messages on your TouchPad. Only apps that are running will send notifications.
When a notification comes in, the text of it scrolls across a small area at the right-side of the status bar. Then, a small icon is left behind to remind you that you have a notification. If it’s an email, then there is a small envelope, if music there is a note icon, if a Twitter mention then it’s the star that Spaz HD uses in its unique icon.
Tapping on the notification icon brings up a minimal popover. From there you can read the subject lines of your recent emails, and either slide them away to discard or tap on them to open your email and read that message. You can also control music playback via the notification popovers.
Notifications will also appear on the Lock screen. They look exactly like their minimal popover counterparts found under the status bar but they are not interactive (save the Music notification which lets you pause, rewind and fast forward).
You also get notifications about actions you’re currently performing, such as when an email has been sent or text has been copied. The same way a new email’s subject line will scroll across the status bar, webOS will tell you that you’ve successfully copied some text or that Paper Mache is syncing.
The Quick Settings Pane
There is a settings pane which you can access at any time, in any app, by tapping the top right corner of the screen. I am very fond of this little guy.
The settings pane tells you the day and date what percent of battery life you have left.
You can also:
- Adjust the screen brightness.
- Turn on/off Wi-Fi as well as pick a wireless network.
- Turn on/off VPN.
- Turn on/off Bluetooth.
- Toggle Airplane Mode.
- Lock the screen rotation.
- Mute the sound.
Though I welcome the ability to toggle Bluetooth and see the exact battery percentage, I think the average user would do just fine with a more simplified set of options. Perhaps Richard Kerris meant it when he said the target audience for the TouchPad is enterprise customers. (But if enterprise is their audience then why the horrible the Russell Brand commercials?)
You take screenshots the same way as on the iPad: hold the Lock Button and the Center Button down at the same time.
When you take a screenshot there is a large yellow orb that appears in the center of the screen. Presumably it is meant to imitate a camera flash or something, but it is very gradient-y and pixelated. It’s ugly.
It is very easy to accidentally lock up the device or freak it out if you happen to hit the volume rocker at the same time you are trying to hit the Lock Button and Center Button. This happened to me a few times, and once there was a several-minute stint where every time I hit the Center Button it would take a screenshot. One thing I like about the screenshots is that they get their own photo album, and all screen captures go into that photo album by default.
When the TouchPad is in USB mode, you can easily transfer screenshots over to your computer. They are in a top-level folder titled screencaptures. And when you see them, you find that they are named using the name of the app you were in, the date, and the time. For example, the aforementioned screen grab of shawnblanc.net that I took from the webOS browser is named
This is clever, but in some ways it backfires. The screenshots are sorted alphabetically, and so if you take a screenshot and then want to attach it to an email (you can do that in webOS) it very well could be in the middle of the album rather than at the end.
Just Type makes for a nice one-stop-shop for quickly launching a Google search or getting a note or email started. It just works, and it works well.
Using Just Type as my go-to for starting an email, composing a tweet, or launching a Web page takes some getting used to. But, when I do remember to use it (rather than launching the app first), it is faster than launching the browser, tapping into the address field, and then typing out the URL.
I found typing on the TouchPad just as easy (or just as difficult) as typing on the iPad. There is the familiar click, click, click that accompanies the typing on the keyboard, and the keys are pretty much the same size. The layout is slightly different, though.
For one, the keyboard has a number row at the top. I regularly found this fifth row to be very useful.
Secodly, you can adjust the height of the keyboard between XS, S, M, and L. It would be nice if the height settings were orientation-specific. If you prefer the small keyboard height when in portrait orientation but medium when in landscape, you have to manually adjust it each time. I just leave it on medium at all times, and rarely do any typing when in portrait.
So, what did HP do with the extra keys they gained by adding the number row? They added some text-emoticons. How lovely:
As for typing with a Bluetooth keyboard, I didn’t buy HP’s Touchstone accessory and keyboard because I already own a Bluetooth keyboard of my own. Alas, I was not able to pair my Apple Bluetooth keyboard with the TouchPad. It literally took 5 minutes of refreshing the Bluetooth search on the TouchPad before it saw my keyboard, and that was followed by another 5 minutes of failed attempts to pair them. And so, no, I did not type this review on the TouchPad.
Cursor Insertion, Text Selection, and Cut/Copy/Paste
The way webOS does cursor insertion, text selection, and Cut/Copy/Paste are all nearly identical to the way iOS does them. There are a few differences:
You don’t get the magnifying glass when trying place the cursor in an exact spot. It is hit and miss. If you miss you can try again or else use the backspace key to delete all the text to the left of where you actually wanted the cursor and then retype it. My advice: aim a little to the right.
The text highlight color is yellow in webOS.
Once I’d selected a word or a letter I found it nearly impossible to grab the little handles and adjust my selection. The touch targets must be too small or something, but it always takes great care and usually several tries before being able to get hold of a handle and select more text.
To get your cursor to the very end of a document, it would appear that you literally have to tap in that exact spot. On iOS if you tap anywhere below the last line of text the cursor is automatically placed at the end of the document as if you hit page down. webOS does in fact work the same way, but the cursor doesn’t actually appear to be in place. You have to trust that it’s there at the end and simply begin typing.
In short, text selection is near the top of my list of things that bug me most about the TouchPad. Yes, the features themselves are there, but the functionality is only just passable. It can almost be less frustrating to settle the fact that you can’t do something rather than to have the hope of being able to do it yet never fully realizing that hope.
The system font for webOS is Prelude.
If you visit this page which John Gruber set up 4 years ago to show the iOS system fonts, you’ll see that nearly none of the iOS system fonts are included with the TouchPad. The ones which do render are: Arial, Courier New, Georgia, Times, Times New Roman, and Verdana.
In Paper Mache, the Instapaper app for webOS, the font options it offers you are Prelude, Arial, Verdana, Georgia, and Times.
Dark Corners and Inconsistencies of the UI:
In most of the various application settings the toggle buttons are blue and square:
However, in some apps (such as in the Backup settings and the Text Assist settings) the toggle buttons are round:
What we would call the Home Button is called the “Center Button” on webOS. If you enlarge a Flash video to full screen then the TouchPad tells you “Tap the Center Button to return.” However, in the settings for Screen & Lock, the TouchPad lets you know that “The center button blinks when new notifications arrive.” In once instance “Center Button” is capitalized, and in another instance it is not.
There are times when certain screens or apps look just barely out of focus. Like a Photoshop document that is zoomed to 95-percent — it’s almost in focus but not quite. Part of me can’t help but wonder if the out-of-focus bits are simply scaled-up graphics from the phone-sized version of webOS.
In the Music app there are four sub-categories under the main Library listing: Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres. If no songs are in these sub-categories then a message appears where the track would otherwise be listed. The message has a large monochrome icon above it. For Songs, Albums, and Genres the icon and the message are centered on the track listing are. For Artists, however, the icon and message got left up into the top left corner on accident.
The App Catalog home page, when in portrait orientation, is quite off balance.
You can see how the description bubble above Categories is a few pixels higher than the other three. The margin to the left of the 4 center boxes is less than the right margin, and there is a different left margin width for heading, the top-level paragraph, and the center boxes.
However, it only looked like this for a few days. On Monday the Catalog home page was replaced with the cover of Pivot, the app discovery magazine put out by HP. I had been unable to find Pivot in the App Catalog until it arrived on its own, and so my guess is that Pivot and the App Catalog are one and the same. You will always see that month’s issue of Pivot every time you open the App Catalog, and since you cannot launch the App Catalog without an Internet connection neither can you read Pivot offline.
For icons, there is not the same standard “form” for all icons like there is on iOS. As such, they feel very loose and non-unified. Not to mention that some icons are pixelated, some are not. That is not to say that every icon in iOS is beautiful — far from it. But the unity and consistency of iOS icon shapes at least add to the overall aesthetics of the Home screens.
Why would someone buy the TouchPad rather than an iPad? I can think of a few reasons:
You have a Pre and you are desperate to use the advantages that come with the unified operating system.
Being able to say that your tablet has Flash is more important than being able to use Flash.
You are Apple-averse.
You take great delight in webOS and have great faith in its future. So much so that you’re willing to tolerate the annoyances, frustrations, and dark corners of the TouchPad in hope that they will get ironed out.
As a tech writer it was great to be able to use and live with the TouchPad for a while. There are many things I appreciate about webOS, and I’m glad I was able to spend some time with a non-Apple device for once. But, alas, the TouchPad is far less likable than I expected it would be. As it is I would not recommend it to anyone I know — even my friends with webOS phones.
- Actual weights: TouchPad: 1.6 pounds; original iPad: 1.5 pounds; iPad 2: 1.33 pounds. ↵