So I got to see the HP TouchPad in action sometime back in February, and actually played with it for all of 30 seconds before the lady doing the demo realized that I had my grubby hands on it and politely pulled it away. From my brief time with the device, and the very extensive controlled demos by the presenters – here are my initial thoughts on what I really liked about the TouchPad which HP has just announced will be launched in June.
I have never been a big fan of the old Palm Pre phones. Always felt that the phones were much too small, especially when trying to handle all the touch gestures the palm interface demanded in order to use the phone. The new Pre 3 is a step in the right direction with decent 3.6 inch displaybut the TouchPad however – that’s a different ballgame all-together.
So why on earth would you ever consider holding out for an iPad 2? Here’s a few reasons why:
1. You want grouped multi-tasking
Because all smartphones these days handle multi-tasking pretty decently, but handling anything more than a few apps is often a clunky user experience.
WebOS on the other hand, groups together related apps running in the background.
How is this useful?
On other platforms multi tasking is focused on helping you switch between apps quickly, not so much between tasks.
Some tasks require you to switch between related apps, For example – to calculate expenses you may want to switch between a calculator, notepad, and email app.
On WebOS, because apps are grouped together, you can quickly switch between groups of related apps all at once without hunting around.
Here’s a video which shows you this feature or ˜stacks’ as Palm people call it (Tip: Forward to halfway through the video to see most of the action)
2. You want a wireless charging
Because there’s no more plugging in wires. Just place it on the dock, and it charges/syncs.
I don’t think I need to say more.
3. You want an adjustable sized keyboard
Because not all fingers are the same size. For me, the keyboard is perhaps the most important aspect of any smart device (aside from touchscreen sensitivity), and perhaps one of the most difficult for manufacturers to get right. Making the on-screen keyboard adjustable really helps eliminate the compromise many keyboards make to get it to a one-size-fits all setup.
4. You don’t want to launch apps
Because you want to just type and go.
A feature called ˜Just Type/Quick Actions’ in webOS 2.0 will allow you to do things in apps, without ever having to launch the app. Doing things like search, compose email, set alarms, create calendar appointments, Facebook status updates, send text messages, update your blog etc. from anywhere on your phone without having to open an app and wait for it to load.
How useful this turns out to be though, lies in the hands of developers who build need ˜Quick Actions’ plugins for this to take off.
5. You Want Decent Speakers
Because the iPad 2 has mono speakers. (Why Apple, why?)
while the TouchPad comes with HP Beats Audio and stereo speakers. This setup possibly makes it the best audio system you will get for ANY tablet.
6. You want unobtrusive push notifications
Because while the rest of the smartphone world (Palm/Android/BlackBerry) has figured out how to do unobtrusive push notifications, iOS is using the worst push notification system in the world. It’s in your face, forces you to look at everything, and forces you to unlock the phone to dismiss the notification.
WebOS notifications on the touchpad however are unobtrusive, easily dismissible if you don’t want to attend to it right away, and provides a useful preview to boot, and is very well thought through.
What could be improved on the TouchPad
- Really wished it would come with a rear camera. If you’ve ever used a tablet for annotation, or tried taking photos of text/maps for use on a tablet you’d realize how truly important this is. Hopefully we’ll see this in the next iteration.
- Also, the very obvious hole they have is their distinct lack of apps. Their porting platform, the WebOS PDK has been around for about a year. On one hand you’ve got nice testimonials of companies porting over 9 games in 5 weeks. On the other hand, the reality of the matter is that they have REALLY struggled to get publishers on board, and even the very new Windows Phone 7 Platform which is still extremely raw, has gotten further ahead of the game.
- Things are moving really slow in terms of product development and launch. Bear in mind the iPad 2 will take some steam away from the TouchPad launch, and if Apple really shifts their launch cycle for the iPad to ship in time for Christmas, the TouchPad could get swallowed up by iPad 3.
I did talk to Steven MacArthur who’s the SVP of Apps and Services in HP about how slow everything has been moving, but his response was that it was early days in this market and he could afford to go slowly for now saying it did not matter in the grand scheme of things and long term strategy – citing how Apple and Android beat up the smartphone incumbents within a short period of time.
Truth be told, I disagree with him on this one. The iPhone was a ridiculously revolutionary device when it launched. Android bridged the gap and opened up solid smartphone capabilities to a whole other range of manufacturers.
Palm’s devices however are at best incrementally better than existing systems, still has its shortcomings, and they will not license out their OS. In short – the market will be much less forgiving. Given that the Pre and Pre 2 hasn’t done spectacularly well so far, this should already be a warning flag. Also, the unofficial price point is touted to be at the USD$499 point for the 16GB Wifi version which makes it on par with iPad 2 pricing, so it does not look to have an advantage there either. Meanwhile I’m crossing my fingers that a 3G version will follow quickly.
Here’s a full hands-on which was demo’ed in Shanghai. It gives a great look at the new WebOS devices which were launched including the TouchPad.
Video courtesy of Lowyat.tv
All that aside. The TouchPad did seem like a really snappy device. Interface looked well designed and slick. More than anything it has bucketloads of potential especially when WebOS starts being integrated into ALL new HP computers starting from next year. The tablet future certainly looks interesting doesn’t it?