Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A[mazon][dobe]'s Future Application Platform: WebOS, Codename Enyo

We have now reached the point of no return: after returning to its parent company 3com/HP, the original Palm hardware group has been assimilated and Palm is no more. They were given one final run, producing the TouchPad in under 1 year and providing the Pre line with hardware it deserved with the Veer and Pre^3; however, it was too little, too late. Ultimately, what HP did was keep Palm alive long enough to finally produce the tablet the WebOS faithful have been waiting for; had this tablet been introduced at CES along with the Pre^3 and Touch-to-Share in 2009 (or subsequently followed the "Pre"release, Pixi, and Apple's iPad), the original buzz generated from CES 2009 may have carried on and made WebOS a definitive third in the mobile OS race. Instead, Palm failed to attract the attention (and sales) needed to provide WebOS with enough traction to compete on its own, and by the time the funding was available to produce arguably the first great hardware to run WebOS (circa 2011), iOS and Android have finally picked up on many of the features that makes WebOS great: more flexible and non-intrusive notifications, gestures, better multitasking support, synergy, and a cloud-based profile and backup.

The great software that has kept Palm alive is now all that remains. Back in April of 2010 I authored a post speculating on hardware companies that could acquire Palm and benefit from and produce great hardware for WebOS (HP was missing from my list ;-). Now, the question that remains is, who will truly benefit from WebOS as a software (and application) platform? Out of the many rumoured companies interested at this point, I will pick 4. - One of the four modern computing titans, and the only without an OS to call its own. Amazon was the first to recognize that as a sales-centric company, as more and more content goes digital, it would need a platform of its own to deliver this content. The Kindle was the first such platform, which began with ebooks (currently surpassing paperback sales) and continues with apps, music, and video on the Fire.

The Kindle Fire runs a heavily customized Android 2.3 skin, but the Amazon App Store has been around for over 6 months and provides access to over 8500 apps. By contrast, the HP TouchPad has over 5500 apps, many of which came from the Pre, which has been around for over 2 years. For the current launch (and the 2011 holiday market), a $200 7" Android-based tablet will fare well. However, relying on the Android platform and essentially forking 2.3 may not be a good longterm strategy, especially considering the app fragmentation that will result once 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is widely deployed.

Amazon has already shown a desire to have a strong presence in the cloud computing market, launching EC2 in 2006 well before Google's App Engine was introduced in 2008. The Silk browser on the Fire is another example of Amazon's push onto using the Web as an application engine. If Amazon were to acquire WebOS from HP, the next iteration of WebOS could be the platform for applications running and data stored in the cloud. Google's Chrome OS has already taken that next step, replicating WebOS by providing a web-based app platform and using the user login to sync apps and bookmarks, making the hardware a dummy terminal for the platform.

Amazon has also proven that the digital content you purchase is intended to be OS and device independent; Kindle books are available on iOS, WebOS, Android, and in any browser. The web applications already developed for WebOS are not restricted to a specific architecture (e.g. ARM or x86); theoretically, any non-PDK application (and ported PDK application) can also run within a browser. If Amazon were to purchase WebOS, not only would it gain a Linux-based UI that it could expand for a future Kindle Fire (and other portable media consumption devices), but also an App Catalog and WebOS profile that could be made accessible on any PC and mobile device. Imagine browsing the Amazon store through the lens of an application like the App Catalog on the TouchPad; Pivot is a great sales tool that can be utilized by to further sales similar to a weekly flyer, and each item can be previewed (video, photos, and reviews), saved to the cart or wish list, and purchased from a mobile device with ease.

Adobe - Flash is DOA on mobile devices, Steve Jobs decries, and Adobe's Web stronghold (acquired from Macromedia in 2005) begins its demise. Steve Jobs took Flash to the grave, leaving us with HTML5, an open standard to multimedia on the web. Originally pushed by WebKit (which powers Android/Chrome, Safari, and WebOS), Adobe acknowledges that future applications will be based on HTML5, with native applications for mobile devices (and Adobe Air on the desktop) filling in the gaps. With Flash dead, Adobe needs to resurrect itself in a significant way, and what better way than with WebOS. Adobe can quickly take WebOS applications to the desktop and mobile thanks to Enyo, further develop Ares and support developers and the multi-platform SDK, and advance the PDK to allow for native development on more platforms.

Adobe would also gain users and the WebOS profile, which can be combined with the Adobe login to support the syncing of epubs and build in support to borrow books from libraries directly from a tablet.

Intel - With Nokia dropping active development of Meego and the ARM-dominated mobile device market threatening the x86 business model, Intel may be looking for a new boost to its mobile presence. Intel already has the expertise gained from developing Meego for x86; combined with the UI and application framework from WebOS, it has the potential to finally combine performance and features to its mobile offerings to compete with Android and iOS on ARM. Aside from making WebOS available to all PC OEMs as a light alternative to loading up Windows, Intel has the potential to form partnerships with HP, Samsung, LG, and Lenevo to further push WebOS on x86-based tablets.

Qualcomm - The big launch partner for the 2011 HP WebOS devices, WebOS is already running on Qualcomm CPUs and can be further developed and pushed to mobile OEMs (HTC, Samsung, LG) to expand the adoption of its ARM chips (and provide patent licensing to protect new entrants). Ultimately this would be a competitive move to prevent Intel from gaining from WebOS on x86 and further the dominance of ARM.

Full disclosure: my preference is Amazon for the future parent of WebOS; I just see a lot more potential than with the other 3 options. Opera would be a great alternative to Amazon, but it doesn't have the resources to be able to go far with WebOS. Adobe is the most practical home for WebOS, as the development resources have already started focusing on getting applications to work on any PC or mobile device, and Adobe could use an HTML5-based web platform. Intel and Qualcomm may result in more hardware running WebOS, but it is a larger risk and will likely take a significant amount of resources to make WebOS a strong alternative to iOS, Android, and Windows. At this point, the only potential for HP to reinvest in WebOS is as a non-exclusive OEM; the actions taken by the company in the past few months have significantly reduced the value for HP-owned WebOS.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This is My Next's Joshua Topolsky Called the HP TouchPad Firesale

I was just going to post this as an update to my previous post, but this is too good to bury. In the process of catching up on tech podcasts on my drive back home this evening, I started listening to the "this is my next podcast" from 8/12/2011 and realized that Joshua Topolsky called the $99 TouchPad a week before it happened. Now this could imply that HP took a cue from This is my Next to firesale the TouchPad in order to get mass adoption of WebOS and perhaps poise the platform to be #2 on tablets...once again, a wild idea, but start listening at around 18 minutes into the podcast and you'll likely drop your jaw on this.

Here's a snippet (20 minutes in): "So like if they priced it at $100 and sold 10 million of them they would now be the number two tablet. I mean I'm saying like, the price doesn't define what it is. I mean certainly you have to keep it at a certain price, but if they had managed to sell 5 million tablets they would be at a much better position than they are now. People buy $99 tablet; they think they're gonna be cool. What HP should have done is just come out with a $99 TouchPad and completely ruined the industry, completely thrown everybody off. They could've taken a hit, like a few billion." And Nilay Patel's response..."That's such, like, a joker move, like lighting a pile of money on fire to prove that you don't need it." And then Josh follows up with "right, to put them in people's hands, so you would've locked them into the TouchPad. Developers have an audience, and they release a new TouchPad that like $199 that's thinner....I think that would've wrecked the program...for Apple, right? We'll never know now, will we?" Brilliant...for more on the future of WebOS from Josh Topolsky, check out his most recent op-ed at Washington Post. You never know, maybe WebOS will become Amazon's tablet OS, running on Samsung hardware.

Monday, August 22, 2011

WebOS: The Platform That Still Can

It was only two months ago when I placed my pre-order for the HP TouchPad. A part of me wanted to wait until I had a chance to demo the TouchPad in a brick-and-mortar, but the opportunity to have the TouchPad in my hands before my trip to Minneapolis the weekend of the 4th was too much for me to resist. Today I find myself $450 richer, as HP's instructions to credit early buyers finally made its way to Note that I had the option to return the TouchPad and receive a full refund days before, but I waited patiently and the credit came through. It has simultaneously been a very confusing 4 days since HP's announcement to stop producing WebOS hardware. At first came denial; disbelief that HP would spend $1.2 billion dollars on Palm just one year ago, throw another half to one billion on running the business and designing a product as impressive as the TouchPad in less than one year while a merger was underway and the CEO was replaced. Then came anger; after having lived with a Sprint Pre for over two years, I had become hopeful that the Pre 3 would arrive to take its place, and now suddenly the Pre 3 is no where to be found and I am left with a less-than-optimal Franken Pre Plus. This $450 I find myself with was invested in future of WebOS; I would gladly bargain this cash for a Sprint Pre 3 and updates to the TouchPad and Pre for the next two years. Alas, I am not left with this option, leaving me to grudgingly accept a Franken Pre 2 at some point in the future once I feel compelled to buy one on ebay.

I would love to dedicate this blog posting to how much I love WebOS 3.0 running on the TouchPad. In fact, the promised OTA update that arrived July 31 greatly improved reliability with loading flash content like Hulu, Amazon Video, and Comedy Central, making this device the only computer I need when I travel. As I sit here blogging on the TouchPad, is playing my mix radio station in the background (you have no idea how long I've waited for on WebOS), and the "Kübler-Ross model" Wikipedia page is in the same stack as this window.

At first glance, HP's announcement to exit the WebOS hardware business and possibly spin or sell off the entire Personal Systems division seemed like an incredibly crippling move. HP's shares declined over 30% the day after this announcement was made, losing more value than the amount required to purchase of Autonomy Corp, announced prior to the earnings report. It certainly was a PR nightmare for HP, one that introduced grave uncertainties to those employed by the Personal Systems Group and the former Palm group as well as the users and developers of WebOS. As someone who has personally experienced unknowns like this at a former employer, I understand how it feels to find out about a major development via a press release rather than having been informed internally prior to a public announcement; it is incredibly depressing. Especially given all the hard work the team has demonstrated this past year, it is disappointing that less than 2 months after the TouchPad was launched, and mid-way through another hardware development cycle, Palm was stopped in its tracks once again. Perhaps it was the ghost of the Palm Folio that stopped everything, or maybe it was the limited resources and shifts in focus away from phones and towards the TouchPad. It certainly didn't help that the two year anniversary of the launch of the original Palm Pre for Sprint was followed by no new WebOS phone for said users; although some of us continued to have patience and bought TouchPads at full retail price to help bide the time, ultimately the base that made up the WebOS movement in 2009 did not return in 2011.

The HP TouchPad was a great tablet and WebOS 3.0 was gaining traction in mindshare, but consumers were afraid to make the investment; iOS and Android were a safer bet, even though the platforms were not nearly as well developed as WebOS 3.0. In fact, I would have to say the HP TouchPad was the best WebOS launch HP and Palm could have executed. The device and software was well-received despite the hardware being compared to the first iPad and the software waiting for its OTA (in development for several months) to patch outstanding bugs. The advertisements for the Veer and TouchPad were actually quite good, and once the demos finally arrived at the multitude of retailers that HP reached out to for the launch, the TouchPad was front and center and ready to be touched by millions of consumers. The fan support, however, was lost; many of the sales employees had already moved on either to Android or iOS and it was safer to sell what they knew rather than what could be (and what they had likely found in the past to be insufficient).

Finally, Palm has been working very hard to court developers from the very first launch of WebOS, but they truly redoubled their efforts since the Think Beyond event in February, making the SDK for WebOS 3.0 available very early, making the Pre 2 affordable for developers to purchase and test with, and providing access to the Veer and TouchPad in many developer events throughout the nation months prior to launch. From my perspective, quality applications available for the TouchPad at launch easily surpassed HoneyComb at launch (and perhaps even to date), and were as significant (if not more) than the original application partners of the Sprint Pre. Epicurious, Kindle, Time magazine, and HD versions of Angry Birds were waiting for me when I first logged into my Palm Profile, along with all the applications I had downloaded (free and purchased) on my Pre. Only a couple weeks later and we started seeing impressive WebOS-native applications like Glimpse, Mosaic, and Video Flood HD. Additionally, Skype was built-in with video support and ready for use at launch, and WebOS 3.0 was even able to connect to my Pre (running meta 2.0) and place calls. The only thing that would have made this launch perfect would have been the availability of the Pre 3 on Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T on the same day...but we will never know what that would have been like.

Then came the firesale...TouchPad dropped from $499 to $399 less than two weeks ago (with a special $299 price at Staples) and finally down to the clearance prices of $99.99 for the 16GB and $149.99 for the 32GB starting Saturday morning. The tablets started flying off shelves and taking down customer service lines and major retailer websites, and this continues to this minute. Despite no guarantees for updates to the tablet after the first year warranty is up, and irregardless of platform (iOS and Android), the tablet consumer found this too good of a deal to pass up. The hardware is certainly up to par (1.2GHz, overclockable to 1.5GHz, with 1GB of RAM and good battery life), and WebOS, despite not having the iOS and Android apps and devices behind it, is certainly able to hold its own, and the consumer recognizes that. The risk isn't so high at $99 or $150, and suddenly HPalm was finally able to accomplish what they've been aiming for since WebOS was first introduced to the public; adoption near the scale of an Apple device.

"The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success." Originally a Bruce Feirstein quote, it was also done well by our good friend Jonathan Pryce in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. Léo Apotheker, the current CEO of HP with a name that sounds like a Bond villain, surprisingly tends to fall in line well with this quote, and only time will tell how successful this move was. One interesting factoid is that Mr. Apotheker won the French Légion honour in 2007 "in recognition of his business leadership and contribution to the French economy". By taking a huge loss and discounting the HP TouchPad below cost, HP has strangely invested in WebOS's future in a way that 3+ years of development and 2+ years of hardware has not. As unfortunate as this move will be for many outstanding engineers working at HPalm, Mr. Apotheker has taken potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in WebOS's future, reminiscent of a socialist redistributing the wealth with the net result of a greater populace capable of discretionary spending to stimulate the economy. In other words, WebOS just gained over a million users and greater interest in the platform than all of the efforts taken previously by engineers and marketing to capture the attention of the tech addicted masses. It is sad to see this money taken away from engineering (seeing that Palm was likely a $500 million dollar business prior to being acquired), but this may have been the smartest way to invest this money on WebOS. Developer sales have increased 4-fold, and PC Mag headlined "The 10 Best Things to Do With Your New $99 HP TouchPad", a feature that's typically focused on more WebOS specific blogs like precentral and webosroundup.

Ultimately, the most interesting result of this madness seems to have solved the dilemma of which comes first, the users or the developers. A platform needs apps to garner user attention, and WebOS, launched on lackluster hardware and deployed in a limited fashion for the past two years, lost user interest, which lost developer interest, and continued to spiral downwards until HP decided it was time to make it rain tablets. And now WebOS has earned the reawakening it was seeking on the's up to HP now to keep the momentum going once again.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Computing Titans of Today (Part 2)

Given the four modern technology driving forces outlined in Part 1, I will take this opportunity to study the approaches taken by each of the four titans to increase revenue and maintain high profit margins. Whenever one of these companies succeeds in garnering interest in a technology evolution, nearly every competitor and supplier stands to benefit.

Apple - A company with a well-recognized brand that began the personal computing revolution and continues to remain relevant over 30 years after it was founded. System engineering is Apple's specialty; although they are not necessarily the first to market or the original creators of the technology that they use, the implementation genius of Steve Wozniak and the testing rigor of Steve Jobs lives on in the very essence of the company. As a computer company, Apple found itself as a niche manufacturer, using software and industrial design to differentiate their hardware from other PC manufacturers.

There was a period of time (during the late 80s and early 90s) that the company attempted to compete at a larger scale with the PC, but once Steve Jobs returned to the company he set a course for the company to become an innovator in consumer computer products. The innovations in many cases are not advanced relative to the rest of the industry, but the focus on proper implementation and testing led to products that general consumers find simple and fun to use.

Apple adds value to their hardware by leveraging fashionable and practical industrial implementations, but the move from niche to mainstream in consumer electronics was achieved by distributing software to manage their simple yet elegant mobile computers, formally known as iTunes for Windows. Apple's investment in software engineering and development is anecdotal; iTunes is given away for free to sell more iPods, and the development cost of Mac OS X is a hardware tax. As popular a BSD Unix platform as Mac OS X has become for power users, to the dissatisfaction of many *nix users Mac OS X will not be sold devoid of hardware, because the only reason it exists to the extent that it does today is to sell more iPhones/iPods and Macs. No matter how much money Apple collects through iTunes sales, hardware sold at premium prices is what makes Apple one of the largest technology companies in the world.

Microsoft - The software doesn't necessarily have to be original or good as long as it works, is everywhere, and is open to all interested software developers and hardware vendors. Certainly Windows 7 has come a long way from Windows 1.0, but the key to Microsoft's success was OEM bundling of their operating system on nearly all IBM-compatible PCs. The software is proprietary, but Microsoft has the resources to make it work on anyone's hardware, and it was far cheaper (prior to Linux) for a PC manufacturer to add Windows to the BOM than try to design the software in-house. Apple must sell their hardware at a premium or sell more hardware that re-uses the software they devote a large amount of engineering resources to, but a PC manufacturer takes on substantially less risk by adopting another company's highly available platform.

Microsoft is the only company that every computer user has most likely directly or indirectly purchased software from, and is one of only a few consumer software companies that can charge several hundreds of dollars for a license. To replicate its success in areas outside of Windows and Office, Microsoft has attempted to grow into online services and consumer devices. Initially, these investments were made with the primary purpose of selling more copies of Windows and to keep users in the Microsoft ecosystem, but more recently the company has returned to its roots by focusing on ways to charge the Microsoft tax on consumer devices by regaining control of the hardware platform. Microsoft's gains in the PC-era were thanks to a hardware platform defined by IBM and Intel that many manufacturers adopted. By creating a gaming platform, Microsoft was able to leverage its success with DirectX on Windows to sell games specifically made for the Xbox, each garnering a Microsoft tax. The Xbox 360 has also become a development platform that has led the way to improved user interfaces, performance and efficiency, and innovations such as Kinect.

Microsoft's latest push is in mobile with Windows Phone 7. Windows Mobile became too fragmented, which to Microsoft means too much time spent engineering their operating system for different hardware and less time focused on user experience and speed. The Zune allowed Microsoft to focus on a high-end platform for media consumption and mobile gaming. Windows Phone 7 is a culmination of Windows Mobile, Zune, and Sidekick; by setting the SOC to Snapdragon, Microsoft can focus on innovating on software while selling the OS via third-party hardware sales. As long as Microsoft can continue to draw attention to their software efforts and collect money directly from most businesses and indirectly from most consumers, Microsoft will continue to be a dominant technology player. - The pinnacle of direct sales, the website that began with a dial-up accessible book order site now sells everything from toilet paper to food and televisions that are delivered straight to your door overnight if you so choose. The company is still a teenager yet has sold millions of Kindle e-readers, a hardware platform designed by with the sole intent of selling e-books. In fact, e-book sales have now surpassed both paperbook and hardcover sales, accounting for over 40% of book sales on Apple has just entered the e-book market following the introduction of the iPad last year, but the price of the iPad and its tablet design makes it more difficult for Apple to compete. Even though Barnes and Noble and other brick-and-mortar stores have been selling Sony's e-reader product for years before started selling the Kindle, their success has been so limited that all of Amazon's peers started making their own e-reader devices to compete.

Hardware is only one area that has been successful at using to sell more goods. Their website is a popular destination for social networking and product research, and their intelligent product search and recommendation algorithms leads to more sales. The marketplace is open to competitors and allows small and large resellers to sell used and new items, all grouped under the respective product listing. The company has also been successful at providing other retailers (such as Target and Toys 'R Us) an online presence using a similar site layout and leveraging Amazon's search algorithm and order processing. is also a leading cloud computing provider, providing APIs for storage and processing that can help all businesses small or large.

Unlike Apple and Microsoft, who leverage their ecosystems to sell hardware and software, respectively, does not limit platform support to their own devices. The Kindle software application is available for iOS, Android, and WebOS, they use the universal mp3 format for music, and they make their movies and TV shows available online (using Flash) and offline on devices compatible with Microsoft's DRM. on-demand movies and TV shows are also available for TVs and the Roku. By proliferating their services and products to almost all Internet-connected devices, can sell you goods and services no matter where you are on Earth. (No Internet connection, no problem! Kindle came with free 3G in the U.S. from the get-go.) - "Don't Be Evil", the mantra of a company who's goal is to connect you to the rest of the world (with ads). What began as a PhD research project at Stanford became the brand most people associate with Internet search as Kleenix is to tissues. Google was just a site crawler with an intelligent search algorithm on the back-end, with a simple text front-end that remains mostly intact today.

Google is much more than a text search page in 2011. While the majority of Google's revenue still comes from keyword advertisements on top of Google sites and many third-party websites, the company is trying to grow into video and image advertisements through acquisitions of Youtube and Doubleclick, respectively. Google acquired Keyhole in 2004 for their global map satellite presence, on which they've fostered the most popular location service, Google Maps. Subsequently, Google purchased Android in 2005, which is quickly becoming the defacto mobile operating system akin to Microsoft Windows in the 90s. Following the purchase of AdMob in 2009, Google can add mobile application advertising to the list of marketing services it provides, giving it access to iOS and WebOS users along with Android.

To Google, the more time someone spends using its services and software, the more opportunities the company has to display an advertisement, whether it be text, image, or video. The information system that is Google also provides for analytics and, more importantly, targeted advertising. It is to the company's advantage to provide services and software for free in exchange for the user's attention, and as with any marketing company, the more positive the experience, the more likely the user will continue using the company's services and pay attention to advertisements.

Google contributes a lot to open-source, and funds many independent software projects of its own and throughout the world. Apple has and give-and-take relationship with open-source, but Google tends to give more than take, helping the technology industry evolve quickly. Google's APIs tend to be open to any software, but Android has changed the company's focus to developing software for its mobile platform only. This is a safe gamble since Android is quickly proliferating to tens if not hundreds of mobile devices, but that is contrary to their vision of being everywhere. Ultimately, Google will be where they want to be with Android because of the amount of information that passes through a mobile device and will achieve their goal of being everywhere the user is.

Wrap-Up - Each of the four technology titans bases its business on a single driving force (hardware, software, direct sales, advertising), but modern computing is converging at a fast rate, resulting in more competition and technical evolution. Other technology companies aspire to be like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, but the lack of focus on a single driving force has caused them be second-tier. Despite this, there is still a lot of room in the industry for companies to grow and compete, and the leaders of each force will change based on who can garner the popular attention, but ultimately technology prevails. Now if only we can gain full control of our planet and start exploring other planets for minerals and facility...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Joshua Topolsky Late Night Motorola and HPalm Demo

Check out the Motorola Atrix with netbook dock, Motorola Xoom, and very well executed Palm Veer, Pre^3, and TouchPad / Touch to Share demos below.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Palm WebOS 3.0 vs. Google Android 3.0 (HoneyComb) and User Interfaces [Updated]

Now that WebOS 3.0 for the Palm TouchPad has been announced and a more extensive demo of Android 3.0 was shown, it is time to evaluate these tablet UIs and the advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

Before we begin, let's review the classic UI approaches of Microsoft in Windows and Apple in Mac OS (X and iOS). The original Apple Mac UI (circa 1984) only supported running one application at a time (sound familiar?), with a centralized application menu bar at the top of the screen. The Apple menu bar (still in use today) changes based on what application is currently in focus. A single application can have multiple windows in Mac OS, but there is only a title bar attached to a window. By contrast, Microsoft attaches a menu bar along with the title bar to each window, which typically represents a single application. Closing a window will terminate the application on Windows if there are no remaining windows tied to that application; closing a window on Mac OS does not terminate the application, however. Prior to the Windows taskbar and the Mac dock, a task manager or top menu drop-down was used to manage any backgrounded applications, respectively. The modern Windows 7 taskbar and Mac OS X dock both provide an indication of running applications and quick access to launching docked or pinned applications, but the menu bar remains mostly unchanged, albeit hidden at times based on user preference or full-screen mode.

The proliferation of multitouch displays has reinvigorated the UI debate. Aside from making Windows 7 more touch-friendly, Microsoft has taken a different approach with Windows Phone 7, in which applications are incorporated in panels (similar to Zune or Xbox) where only one application is in focus at a time. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Palm, and RIM follow the same trend on mobile touchscreen displays as the original Palm OS, but the degree to which applications are allowed to run in the background widely varies based on what mode the application is perceived to be in. Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 has limited multitasking to OS services similar to the approach Apple had taken in iOS until 4.x. Apple introduced limited third-party multitasking based on certain events like audio playback, but the OS can still suspend an application if more memory is needed for another application and suspends the main process of a task when it is no longer in focus. Using Spaces on Mac OS provides an environment for each running application, much like what iOS is likely to do in the next iteration of their UI when there will be a gesture to switch between backgrounded applications. Google's Android treats applications more like Microsoft's PocketPC OS of the past, allowing applications to remain running in the background but opting to suspend applications if other applications are requesting for memory.

RIM continues down the path of real-time operating systems, moving from Blackberry OS to QNX; while the UI changed drastically during the transition from one core to the other, the approach of running applications seemed to remain relatively the same. Blackberry OS provides something like a mini-taskbar and sets third-party at a lower priority than Blackberry core applications, such as phone, email and messaging, but every running application is given a guaranteed time-slice. On the Blackberry Playbook, visible applications can remain running when out-of-focus or they can be paused to conserve battery.

Palm's approach for running applications continues to be based on the PDA and smartphone revolutions that the company led with the Palm Pilot and the Handspring Treo, respectively. Therefore, the primary PIM functions are what continue to drive the interaction between applications and the core services of WebOS. The Palm SDK provides access to the central database that contains contact information and messages, and the Internet is essentially a series of databases with useful information to applications, hence why the move to web APIs made the most sense. The PDK still provides hardware access needed for audio and graphics intensive applications. The card interface provides a way not only of organizing running applications, but also a way to stack information in a way that makes it easier to organize your life on-the-go. It also makes it easier to consume information and media on a larger screen, and is poised to contend with the dominant desktop UIs of Mac and Windows. (If the web wasn't so important to WebOS, Cards would be a funny name jibe at Windows for desktops and laptops.)

Android is taking many of the UI enhancements added by Palm in WebOS (courtesy of former Palm Senior Director of Human Interface and User Experience Matias Duarte, now Google User Experience Director), but embodies a mix between Windows and Mac OS without providing a way to view multiple applications simultaneously. While WebOS has yet to introduce the ability to dock and use multiple applications simultaneously, it is much closer to providing this ability than Google is with Android 3.0. The way Android 3.0 displays multiple notifications and provides the ability to dismiss or control them is taken from WebOS 1.0, the placement of notifications and the taskbar with shortcuts or menu for running applications is very similar to the Windows 7 taskbar, and the desktop takes widgets from Windows/Android and multiple screens from KDE/Ubuntu and ties them directly to applications. In a way, Android is the closest to providing a view into multiple applications through the use of widgets, but it is quite limited and not as usable as having the application in fullscreen. Google services do add a lot to the mix though; the tablet Gmail application takes some design cues from Palm's Enyo SDK and Windows (Android fragments vs. modular regions, menu bar), the animation framework and renderscript is similar to Apple's iOS and Palm WebOS, and the notification system from WebOS. Check out the Android 3.0 demo below if you haven't seen it already.

[Updated 2/12/2011 8:48PM]
Palm WebOS brings multitasking on mobile touchscreens to the next level. PDK applications that are fullscreen have full access to hardware acceleration; when multiple card mode is initiated, PDK applications are paused but can be resumed nearly instantly once they are in fullscreen again. SDK applications are essentially browser tabs that can be running simultaneously in the background. When an SDK application has a card open, it is sharing resources with any other open cards. When an SDK application is closed, it can register to check for web updates along with other applications at a set interval, which allows it to pop-up in the notification area. It can also reside solely in the notification area to provide regular updates (such as weather or tasks to be completed). The advantage of treating the card interface as a task manager is to make it well known to the user what may currently be contending for resources, while providing an option for an application to check for updates when it has been swiped away in a controlled fashion, similar to push notifications but locally. Push notifications for these events would be nice though; that is one mark that both Google and Apple have on HP.

The niceties of WebOS 3.0 include the sharing of text messages and ability to forward phone calls from a WebOS phone to WebOS tablet, bumping an open webpage from the phone to tablet (or vice-versa), card stacking, and with the Enyo SDK improved access to shared databases and a concentric UI for multiple size screens. It was sad not to see any sort of bluetooth stylus option or the ability to use multiple cards simultaneously in a split-view fashion (as outlined in my tablet predictions), and the gesture area will certainly be missed. If you haven't seen the Think Beyond event yet, check it out least the video demo in HP's event was no Lady-Killer.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Motorola Atrix

This Android phone has sparked my interest due to one notable feature: webtop mode. This would be a great feature to use as a developer and a multitasker, and although it does not function nearly as well on the latter as WebOS might on a tablet or netbook, it provides a great environment for exploring and using Android apps and browsing the web when you require something more than a single-screen Android device can provide. Anyhow, check out the entire video from Engadget to see Joshua Topolsky switch between a PC dock, a netbook dock, and a TV dock. Spoiler: the screen becomes a virtual mouse for the TV when in webtop mode.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PalmPad Render

9" and 7" expected...i'll take one of the former!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Upcoming Palm Tablet Predictions

Anticipation for the WebOS tablet almost overshadows Computing Titans of Today (Part 2) [no worries, that blog posting will arrive soon ;-) ]. However, with CES 2011 coming to an end and HP Palm finally scheduling a WebOS event February 9, the moment is ripe for Palm tablet predictions. To preface, let's start with a quick overview of WebOS 2.0.

WebOS 2.0 brings enhancements to universal search, card (i.e visible running applications) organization, customizable text auto-completion, different touchstone screen states, and many minor feature additions such as Bluetooth keyboard and VPN support. Just Type (formerly known as universal search) adds support for searching application indexes (such as email), Google suggestions, and more search engines with the option to add any website that WebOS detects as search-compatible. Just Type also provides quick access to updating a Facebook status, posting to Twitter, and creating a new note, memo, or email.

Text Assist wraps support for auto-capitalization, auto-correction, and user customizable shortcuts (similar to Palm OS). Exhibition provides for customization of the Palm screen while the device is on the Touchstone.

Arguably the most touch tablet friendly feature is the card interface, and the addition of stacks provide an organization method that is not only useful on small screen but large screens as well. On a device with a 3.1" screen like the Palm Pre or even a 2.63" screen like the Palm Pixi, using stacks makes having 10+ cards open simultaneously a lot more manageable. When one card opens up a web page or email card, for example, the cards are automatically stacked, and moving a card into or out of a stack functions the same way as re-arranging cards in WebOS 1.x. The following video is a good demonstration of how stacking cards looks and works.

On a WebOS tablet, I anticipate that stacks will actually appear expanded when in view so that multiple cards can be used simultaneously. The Notion Ink Adam can display three Android applications on their 10.1" 1024x600 screen and also support applications with split views or full screen apps, but scrolling between applications can be cumbersome without a method to group applications into mini-workspaces.

One of the more exciting things in development at HP Palm is the follow-up to the Palm Ares SDK, the Palm Enyo SDK. HP Palm is working not only to improve performance of the Webkit engine to work on memory starved devices such as the original Palm Pre and the Palm Pixi but also provide a basis for applications that can easily expand to being used on larger screens. Palm demonstrated a mail application that, running on a mobile showed only one screen at a time, but when running on a larger screen showed three panes simultaneously. This also parallels windowed vs. full screen applications on a desktop; on a tablet, an application like mail could either be placed on one pane or expand to three panes based on user preference. The following is a technology demonstration of Palm Enyo.

The Bluetooth keyboard support will be useful when coupled with a touchstone accessory that could be used with a WebOS 2.0 device with a larger screen, such as a PalmPad or a phone with an HDMI out to an external screen. A Wacom-like stylus would also be slick and is a possibility thanks to HP.

One feature that I would love to see on WebOS tablet (and phone) is a screen of widgets similar to the Dashboard feature on Mac OS X. I prefer not to clutter the desktop like Android tends to, but having a screen that can be summoned in or out via gesture would be useful. At the moment the notifications section already provide me with the current temperature and is a good location for small snippets of information, and Exhibition will be good for providing access to news headlines and more weather information, so Palm WebOS is not totally lacking on that front.

So to wrap-up, expectations are very high for the WebOS tablet, but the UI enhancements brought to WebOS 2.0 can be expanded to bring an excellent tablet experience that should knock Notion Ink's Adam, RIM's Playbook, and Google's Android Honeycomb out of the water. In the meantime, enjoy video demos from Notion Ink, RIM, and Google and be sure to check out Palm's former UI designer (now working on Honeycomb) Matias Duarte interview on Engadget.