webOS Vernacular: Cards, Stacks and a Whole lot of Awesome

Two years ago I was still having webOS withdrawals. No one had even come close to duplicating the webOS multitasking experience and at least with iOS, you couldn't even multitask. I also missed Synergy and the unified messaging I got with my Pre. Every now and then I'd wish I was using webOS.

Since then I'd moved on. While the HP announcements earlier this year were interesting to me, they just didn't spark the same sort of excitement that I got from webOS in the early days. Perhaps it was just that I had gone too long without using a Palm device.

When I first picked up the TouchPad it started to come back to me. The webOS UI hasn't aged terribly well. It does feel a little bland compared to the effects you get in Android or iOS but the functionality is definitely still there.

There are three basic elements to webOS: the home screen, the launcher and the card. The home screen is unlike Android or iOS, there's just one single home screen. You also can't put icons on the aforementioned home screen, it's just there to act as a background.

Along the bottom of the screen are five quick launch icons. You can customize these but you can't add any more than five. Next to those icons is an up arrow, tap it and you'll bring up the launcher.

The launcher is the webOS equivalent of the iOS home screen or the Android all apps list. Like Honeycomb, the webOS launcher is divided into multiple tabs: apps, downloads, favorites and settings. You can move apps between any of these tabs, you don't have to actually obey their categories (e.g. you can put Pandora on the settings page, or move Print Manager to downloads). App icons can't exist in two tabs at the same time so once you move one it's no longer exists in its original location.

You can tap the category names to switch between tabs or simply swipe left/right to flip between them. Each category can hold more than a screen full of apps, you just scroll down to reveal more.

Settings in webOS take on more of a Mac/PC-like role. General system settings are accessed via the appropriate icon on the settings tab, but you also get per-app settings through each application's own app menu. I personally believe this is a more scalable setup to the iOS approach which puts all settings in one centralized location.

Having a really long page of settings just doesn't seem to be as good of an idea for scalability when you start adding a lot of apps, not to mention it slows you down when you want to change a setting within an app you're currently using.

So far everything seems pretty standard, albeit well executed. No bad decisions here. Now this where webOS gets awesome.

Apps launch as cards. Go to launch an app and it'll actually first start out as a small card before going full screen. Launch another app and it will appear as a card next to the first. Launch another and it gets tacked on to the end of the list, and so on and so forth.

You switch between apps in card view. To get to card view either hit the home button to zoom out of your currently active app or just swipe up from the bottom bezel. Unlike webOS based phones, swiping up from the bottom bezel is the only bezel gesture supported by the TouchPad.

Apps will continue to execute even when you've switched focus to another card, and they'll even continue to update if you're in card view and swiping around. To quit an app just flick the card up off the screen. No tablet OS does a better job of quitting apps than webOS. As soon as you throw a card off the screen, its memory is freed and available for use by other apps.

If you don't like flicking up, you can always drag a card all the way down to the bottom of the screen and let it go to rubberband shoot it off the screen. You'll even get a bad rubberband stretching sound while you do it.

The webOS card concept is the closest thing you can get on these mobile devices to having multiple windows on a desktop. They remain active when you switch away from them and it's super quick to switch between them. The webOS UI is really key in making this all happen. While Android and iOS both rely on icons or a thumbnail of the app for their task switching, the webOS approach gives you much more information about the current state of each app as well as a more intuitive UI for switching between them. Decades of innovation in GUI based desktop OSes have taught us that we can be more productive with multiple windows on a desktop and the webOS card system is the best approximation of that among mobile devices.

How do cards scale up to the big screen on the TouchPad? Very well indeed. One of my biggest complaints about tablet usage today is that multitasking is still a pain. Honeycomb addressed this with its task switcher but I honestly don't believe anyone does it quite as well as HP on the TouchPad. I'm both more likely to multitask on the TouchPad and get less frustrated (at least with the UI) while doing it. I'll get to this later but although the UI is the best I've seen on a tablet, the performance issues with webOS really keep it from reaching its potential - at least with this current iteration of webOS on the TouchPad.

While cards have been around since webOS 1.0, the concept of stacks was introduced with webOS 2.0 late last year. The idea here is simple. Whereas webOS originally just let you lay cards side by side, with webOS 2.0 and later you can actually stack cards on top of each other. The idea here is that when you have a lot going on at once your horizontal list of cards can get pretty long. It defeats the purpose of having a great multitasking UI if you have to spend several seconds scrolling just to find the card you're looking for. By stacking related cards on top of one another you cut down on the amount of scrolling and ideally keep UI efficiency high.

Stacks are created either by manually dragging a card on top of another one, or when an app spawns a new card which then appears on top. Cards in a stack fan out so you can still see a bit of what's behind the topmost card, you can also manually reorder cards within a stack or even move them out of the stack entirely.

While stacks definitely address the problem of dealing with long lists of cards, they don't solve it. Not everything makes sense to put in a stack and you don't always take the time to neatly organize your cards while you're off using your tablet, at least I don't. The one aid I believe webOS desperately needs is an Exposé like feature where you can get a look at all of your cards when you need to quick switch between the current app and one that's 10 cards away.

Introduction Notifications & Synergy
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  • TheTechSmith - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    I also like the product review choices. Not everyone who reads Anandtech is a PC gamer, and tablets and smart phones are evolving way faster than PC technology, so it makes sense that more coverage is required. There are still plenty of PC component reviews that benchmark using plenty of games for that market. This is a particular product review I was waiting for in fact. Although one review I would like to see is a revisited Boxee Box review, since the Boxee software has changed drastically since the first review, and it was promised at the end of first review to be done before last Christmas. Reply
  • justaviking - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    As long as the phone and tablet reviews do not prevent traditional reviews of PCs, Laptops, and componets, then what's the problem? It takes me about 1 second to not read a review.

    Anand has to follow the market and the industry. Should he be busy benchmarking floppy disk drives? Should he not consider the ability to properly play HD video? He needs to stay current with industry trends or AnandTech.com will become a relic of the past.

    There are lots and lots of reviews here that are not relevant to my immediate purchasing needs. Many I read because they are interesting anyway, though some I skim over much faster than others.

    Lastly, and I hesitate to say it, but there is no need for profanity. It is possible to strongly and passionately voice one's opinion with resorting to gutter language. It's not that I'm delicate and easily offended, it's just that it affects the overall character of this site which is usuall very professional, even when the various fan boys don't agree. This site has some of the best readers in the world, and let's keep the standards high.
    Reply
  • dookiex - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - link

    Not only does Anand need to follow the market and industry, if he was to only review and report on PCs, laptops, and components, there would be very little content on the site! If you sat down and thought about it, there hasn't been any really breakthrough offerings in PC and components land in quite some time now. As for PC gaming, that market really died down since the 360 and PS3. Mobile casual gaming is also NOT helping matters in PC gaming land. Reply
  • thisisthetruthfolks - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    You hit it spot on. Anand if you read these comments, I'm just trying to figure out why this site focuses so much on all these cell phone / tablets stuff when it's traditionally a PC and hardware site.

    I think this site would be best off focusing on the CHIPS found in these devices, not so much the devices themselves.

    And how come laptops get no attention? The biggest article you guys did on notebooks was a notebook GPU roundup that did nothing useful besides list all the available GPUs and categorize them as low end, mid range, or high end. Nothing in that article offered anything that the typical reader of this site didn't already know or couldn't find out on google.

    Where is the reviews of notebook GPUs? No benchmarks of the 580m, no benchmarks of the 6990m, etc. etc. Sure there are some articles, but so many things are missing.

    I subscribed to this site on twitter because I thought it had great reviews for GPUs/CPUs...only to find out that 99% of the time anandtech posts stuff about tablet computers that I couldnt care less about.

    At least reading fudzilla is interesting. Except it has zero credibility. Maybe I'll subscribe to tom's hardware instead...
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    Don't like the first review of webos since you are a tablet hater? Then don't come back here. But don't be a whiny bitch about it either. That's Steve's Job. Reply
  • Wardrop - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 - link

    I've been wondering the same thing for the past year. I can only speak for myself, but I kind of see these articles as spam. I also hate the reviews of those boutique computers, as first of all, I get the impression AnandTech readers aren't on the market for a pre-built desktop computer, and second, a lot of these computers are only available in the U.S, and so are irrelevant for a lot of other readers (like many of the cellphone reviews). Laptop's I understand as they're popular and not something you can build yourself, but other than that, I'd like to see AnandTech focus more on desktop hardware and industry news. Anyone can give us reviews of mobile phones and tablets, but there aren't too many sites that can write an SSD anthology as comprehensively as AnandTech. That's their strength, and I'd love to see more of it. Reply
  • halihassan - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    I’ve yet to reach the end of this review, but so far it seems like you’ve covered the tablet fairly well. One item that I found missing (but is relatively unique) is the monthly Pivot magazine built into the App Catalog. I quickly discovered and downloaded several apps that way, and having used Android and iOS app stores I definitely think that gives HP a huge edge when it comes to discovering applications. Reply
  • halihassan - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    I agree that HP has a ways to go to fully integrate a wireless syncing solution, but it was nice that Box.net offers 50GB of storage for free to all TouchPad users. Box.net is built into Synergy, but it has yet to appear in the music or photo apps, just QuickOffice and its own app from what I can remember. Reply
  • Wander7 - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    I love that background with the light shreaking upwards towards the heavens. Reply
  • lunarx3dfx - Monday, July 18, 2011 - link

    Anand, could you let me know what build of the OS your touchpad is running? Ive noticed that the display models in stores are running build 16, whereas the release build is 41. I think there was some serious optimization done between those build, because ive had none of the performance issues experienced by reviewers on my touchpad. The experience is nice and snappy for me, albeit with the occasional stutter.

    Also, HP already announced that the first ota is due out by the end of this month with bug fixes and optimizations.

    I personally love my touchpad, and hardly even use my computers anymore for anything other than working in office and playing games. My touchpad has practically replaced every other device I have. I love it.

    Also, this was sent from my HP Touchpad. :-)
    Reply

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