In another excellent article, titled Please Steal These webOS Features, Lukas Mathis examines a few notable features that make webOS more suitable to get work done than iOS. Now, in many discussions I’ve had both online and offline regarding topics like this — i.e. comparing different platforms to assess which makes you more productive, satisfied, etc. — I have to say that it all boils down to individual habits. There is no such thing as ‘the best workflow’. It depends on the work you’re doing. It depends on what you consider annoying. For instance, I can’t even look at the status bar on an Android phone/tablet: all those little icons crowding the status bar, so compressed against one another, constitute a bit of information my eyes perceive as ugly and cluttered. Android enthusiasts look at it as a precious source of information and are glad it’s all there.
So, if you read Mathis’ piece, you may think that he simply finds webOS superior because it fits his habits better. In part it’s probably true, but considering that one of Mathis’ main interests is user interface design and interaction, I’d think twice before dismissing his point of view too quickly.
The only way I have used an HP Touchpad and webOS is by downloading the webOS SDK and emulator and running everything inside a virtual machine. This way I miss touch gestures, but for the rest I can say the environment is quick and responsive enough to be quite usable. In other words, I have used enough of webOS to strongly agree with many of the points Mathis makes. Here’s where I agree with him the most:
Almost every time I try to use the iPhone or iPad for writing a response to an email that is longer than «Okay» or «I’ll be there», I have this problem: I need to refer to another email. Maybe it’s something somebody said in an earlier conversation. Maybe it’s something from the mail I’m replying to, and I’ve already deleted it. Regardless, it constantly happens to me.
On iOS, it’s almost impossible to leave a draft, read another mail, and go back to the draft. It can be done, but it’s ridiculously cumbersome. On webOS […] the new email opens in its own card that’s attached to the Mail application’s card. You can easily go back to your other mails, search them, read them, copy text from them, do whatever you want. You can even start writing another mail, and easily switch between the two drafts.
I really like the concept of ‘cards’ of the webOS user interface, and in cases like this it shows all its flexibility. It really makes in-app navigation easier and more intuitive than hitting some ‘back’ button to go back two levels to then tap and go down one level elsewhere. For this reason, I forced myself to drastically simplify my mail management on iOS.
Another great example of the validity of the ‘cards’ concept is when Mathis talks about having to compare multiple webpages at a glance in the ‘Organizing Windows’ section of his article.
I also agree with Mathis when he talks about the virtual keyboard:
To begin with, it has a number row. No more switching between different modes to type numbers. You can access them directly.
You have no idea how much I miss a number row on iOS. Not having to switch back and forth is really a time-saver.
Finally, I agree on the usefulness of webOS’s quick access to certain settings. It’s really a pity iOS doesn’t have some sort of Mac OS’s Apple menu equivalent, with instant access to settings you frequently toggle on and off, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection, or Airplane mode. And it’s ridiculous one has to resort to third-party applications (like the amazing Launch Center — worth every penny and a highly recommended purchase) to achieve a similar functionality.
Like Mathis, I too love webOS. I was intrigued by the potential and originality of this OS from the start, and I really hope it can survive (at least in a similar fashion as the Newton platform) the horrendous, criminal treatment HP’s stupidity inflicted on it.
I’m still looking to acquire a modern webOS device, mainly for studying the user interface and user experience, and if you have an HP Touchpad lying around collecting dust (maybe you did an impulse purchase during HP’s infamous ‘fire sale’ and found out you don’t have much use for it), and want to donate it to science or sell it at a reasonable price, please get in touch. Thank you.