Tag Archives: WebOS

The Pre – Pretty Close

palm-preI recently test drove a Palm Pre for a week.  My goal was to shut my iPhone off and configure the Pre to connect to Outlook, grab my mail, connect to my online contacts, etc. – basically to set it up to be my only device for a period so I can see how it would function around a typical week.  Here are are few highlights that stood out for me:

  • The WebOS is sweet.  After a few hours I got very used to having multiple apps open and being able to switch between them on the fly.  No closing one app to open another as with my iPhone. This really stood out when running Pandora while doing other things. To me (and I think to a lot of people) multitasking is a biggie that sets this device apart from the competition. After using the Pre for a few days my iPhone felt kinda old and simple, like it was last year’s model.  One usability element that really stood out to me was the use of the touch-sensitive area under the screen – brilliant.  It basically supports additional “swipe” gestures that translate into a back button and application switching. I got used to this very quickly and found myself trying to do the same thing on the iPhone a few days later.
  • Notifications are cool.  This is a feature I remember standing out on the Danger OS (i.e. Sidekick) – notifications that show up on part of the screen but don’t take control. On the Pre you can continue doing what you are doing while being notified.  And a simple thumb gesture allows you to dismiss the notification or you can tap on the notification to find out more.  Very elegant.  I think some of the interaction still needs to be worked out though – multiple notifications seem to get hidden and become difficult to track.  Still better than the iPhone notifications though.Palm_webOS_SprintDashboard
  • The keyboard was tough.  I know a lot of people complain about the iPhone virtual keyboard, but I had a hard time getting used to the tiny keys on the Pre.  For how much room they fill up, they are not bad. But compared to the range of mobile device keyboards out there, the chicklets on the Pre were just OK.  It didn’t help that I have big hands, so the keyboard might be great for many other people.
  • The Sprint all-inclusive plan was quite good. When I went into the Sprint store holding my iPhone, one of the first things the store rep asked was if I had a corporate account. I said I wasn’t sure and they immediately offered me a 25% discount off my monthly service – so 1500 family minutes with unlimited data came out to under $100/month. Much better than a comparable AT&T family plan for the iPhone. And Sprint doesn’t jerk you around and charge you separately for text messages, navigation, video – they (rightly) just count this as data.
  • Sprint network was pretty good.  Very fast in Seattle, with very good coverage. Voice calls were very clear.
  • Battery life was not so great. I think this is due more to the 3G/4G network than to having multiple apps running simultaneously.  The device did get hot when using data – not unlike the iPhone 3GS.

Overall, I think the Pre has a lot of potential.  The WebOS is amazing – I like it better than the iPhone’s version of OSX.  I was less impressed by the hardware itself, but I think this will improve over time. For a first gen device, I think the Pre is great.  And I’m really excited to see the next improvements of the WebOS.

Android OS on netbooks

Vinton Cerf, internet co-founder and Google CIE (chief internet evangelist), spoke this week in Madrid about, well, the internet and Google’s role in it. One of the main points that he re-iterated was that for many people in the world, connecting to the internet from a mobile device will be their first interaction with the web.  What I read from the highlights of his talk is that Google, with its Android OS, is positioned not only to run on a mobile device that fits in your pocket (like the T-Mobile G1), but that it will run across multiple form factors, including netbooks. Since Android is free and open, Android will make a good run for netbook OS share.android_small_image

And what does Palm, with its forthcoming WebOS, and Apple, with who-knows-what-announcement(s) at their upcoming developer confernce in June, have to offer?  From what I’ve hear, Palm’s WebOS runs on processors typically found not only in mobile phones but in netbooks as well. And can Apple’s OSX run/be modified to run on a device somewhere between an iPhone and a MacBook, perhaps a stripped down version of OSX? Yes, but since Apple doesn’t like to license its OS (they like to control the whole UX of the device), might we see a new device from them in the coming months?

All this is to point out that the idea of mobile is expanding – it is not just limited to one-handed operation and easily carried in our pockets. It is extending out to netbooks and other devices with wireless access. As an interesting example, some wireless carriers (Verizon, ATT, cough, cough) are now offering subsidized netbooks for signing up for multi-year service agreements. Sound familiar?  Same model U.S. carriers have tended to follow with mobile handsets – provide an inexpensive device but lock people into long/expensive/hard-to-get-out-of service agreements.

From a UX perspective, the landscape keeps changing. The number of screen sizes and input modes are increasing. Additional use cases and behaviors are unfolding. And additional best practices will need to be sorted out. At this point the space is expanding and things are getting sorted out, but we will hopefully start to see some convergence soon…

Boom times ahead for mobile Web access.

Palm Pre. Where the iPhone left off?

preAt the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week Palm announced their new smartphone – the “Pre“. Not that a new smartphone from Palm is necessarily big news – they’ve released several over the past few years. What makes this one special though is that is it built on a brand-new Palm operating system called WebOS, an OS that many people have been waiting for for a long time. You can liken their release of this new OS to the release of the iPhone’s mobile version of OSX or the Google developed Android OS running the T-Mobile G1

Big deal. A new OS. The mobile world is awash in operating systems, fragmenting the space and making it difficult for developers to write software that will gain traction across more than one or two platforms. But WebOS seems to make the iPhone seems antiquated and very non-multitasking.  The Pre is very web-centric, in such a way that it extends what the iPhone has set as the bar for interaction with a mobile device. Spec-wise, the Pre has some shiny features – 3.1″ touchscreen, flip-down keyboard, 3MP camera with flash, 8GB built-in memory, stereo bluetooth, etc. Some of these features are an upgrade from the iPhone’s or the G1′s, but some aren’t.

But what I think make the Pre compelling is the contrast that its WebOS makes with the 

Notifications

iPhone’s OS, and, to a much lesser degree, Android. A beef I’ve had with the iPhone for a long time is it’s lack of multitasking. The current iPhone requires you to think too much about what tool you need to communicate. For example, I can’t communicate via Facebook without thinking to myself “I wonder what is happening with my Facebook account. Let me stop what I’m doing on the phone right now, launch the Facebook app, and see what’s up.” Once I’m done with Facebook, I have to close it to get to my next task. This really bugs when you want to run Pandora while surfing the web or stay logged in to AIM while reading email. So, by the time the Pre comes out, I think Apple needs to do two things:

  1. get their background push notification system (touted by Apple this past Summer) up and running, and
  2. allow third-party apps to seamlessly move between one another without having to “resurface” to the homescreen any time you need to switch.

The Pre relies on the “apps” being web-appish in nature – think pre-SDK iPhone webapps. However, the Pre apps can run locally and don’t require a network connection (i.e. you are not opening your browser and going to a website to run your app.) This is similar in concept to Google’s Chrome browser model – the browser acts as the OS and allows you to run apps within it, as well as surf the web.  A developer simply has to use current web standards like HTML, CSS3, AJAX, etc., to develop apps. These apps should theoretically run on multiple devices. However, will the Pre’s WebOS be able to run games anywhere close to those on the Objective-C-based iPhone OS?  It will be interesting to see. The Apple SDK and the apps that have been developed to date (over 10k of them) underscore the iPhone as a media powerhouse and highlight its gaming prowess.  

It is also interesting that the iPhone, the G1 and the Pre all have the same screen size – 320×480 (HVGA). Good move – all the iPhone-optimized sites that exist are most likely also now G1- and Pre-optimized. This seems to be the de-facto size for touch screen phones. And all three devices run a browser based on the popular open-souce WebKit (as does some Symbian-based phones such as the Nokia E71 you may have seen floating around.) Same screen size and browser platform are both steps in the right direction for establishing a solid mobile experience.

As smartphone platforms continue to evolve, the desktop/laptop computer will become less and less of a part of the ecosystem. Right now sync is still very much a crucial part of the iPhone experience – you can’t set up or activate your phone without it, you can’t get video content onto your phone without it, and, up until the Macworld Keynote last week, you couldn’t get music content on your phone over the cellular network. I haven’t seen yet where Palm has specified how you are supposed to get all your media content onto the device – my guess is that it won’t all be over-the-air and that there will be a USB bulk-load of media content even though Palm has been very clear that their new OS doesn’t need a main computer to be linked to.

From what I’ve seen so far about the Pre, Palm is trying to revive their smartphone leadership role that they once carried in the days of the Treo 600 and Treo 650 – these we’re the coolest devices on the block. The new Pre seems to bring back some of the energy that the Danger Sidekick brought to the table back in the early 2000′s with their fun & friendly OS that ran backgroun apps, sync with your web-based calendar and contacts over-the-air, and download apps and update your OS over wireless.

There are many more innovative features of the Pre and WebOS that I haven’t touched on here, features that additionally highlight what the iPhone is lacking when it comes to a web-centric device. It will be interesting to see what effect a Pre-infusion will have on Palm in 2009.