App Review: Taurus 4
We can all agree that the hallmark, the crown feature, of the webOS platform is its unmatched multitasking user interface. There's simply no equal to its prowess. webOS also has been one of the leading platforms for Twitter clients, though that perhaps hasn't been as evident lately. For years webOS has had some of the best Twitter clients in the mobile space, and while many have fallen behind, there are always a few more coming up and ready to take their place, and thankfully they keep spoiling us with quality user interfaces and beautiful design. The latest entrant takes after the conventions of incredible!, bringing a new unified social networking experience to the TouchPad: Taurus.
This new social app by OMA Studios has hit the webOS App Catalog, bringing a single-app multi-pane social networking experience unlike that offered by other apps. While incredible! seeks to integrate your networks into one stream like webOS tries to integrate your contacts and calendars, Taurus brings them into one app, but keeps them segmented so that even more dissimlar social network and systems can join the mix. A full Taurus cocktail can contain Google Reader feeds, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook streams, YouTube subscriptions, and your ToodleDo tasks. It's one heck of a cocktail.
At first launch you have to go through a quick set-up process to get your various accounts tied into Taurus and pick-and-choose how you want them to display in the app. In addition to the previously-mentioned services, Taurus has a built-in RSS and note-taking capabilities.
What Taurus really brings to the table is detailed customization. You can add your feeds, sure, but you can also change what is displayed from each feed and in what order. For instance, for Twitter clients you can pick and choose between your timeline, mentions, direct messages, your own tweets, the retweets of any specific account, trends, and profiles. Facebook supports viewing of your news feed, wall, your friends, messaging inbox, and photo albums, while Google lets you catch up on your Google Reader feeds, check up on your Google contacts, search YouTube, and view your personal YouTube account.
All of this customization is broken down into two levels: dashboards and columns. A dashboard in Taurus is the first level, picked from the selector bar at the bottom of the app. Taurus has a number of pre-populated Dashboard packs that only require a log-in, or you can create your own. Each dashboard is displayed in the big space above in a horizontally-scrolling display of columns. The columns within these dashboards are customizable in both content, quantity, and order - however you want your Twitter arranged, it can do it. It's not immediately obious that the columns scroll side-to-side to reveal more columns - it's a problem with a lot of apps that ther aren't visual cues like the edge of a third column peeking in to indicate that there's more to be seen and used here. Some of this is explained in the Quick Start guide you're presented on launch, but if you're like us you're probably the type that bypasses that to jump straight into the app.
You might think that Taurus is designed to keep things neatly segregated between your feeds, but that's to the pick-and-choose options afforded by the columns you can actually mix-and-match to your heart's content. Want your Twitter and Facebook timelines to be displayed side-by-side in one dashboard and your LinkedIn Inbox, Google Reader feeds, and a scratch pad in another? You can do that. A tap of the '+' button in the bottom right corner will open a simple "add something" dialog so you can add a new dashboard, account, or column, while the speedometer button allows you to rearrange and remove things on your dashboard (speedometer = dashboard, get it?), and the gears icon brings up a small menu with options to open the in-app browser, pinboard, account management, support, and settings. Settings allows you to get more fine-grained with how the app behaves, from the presence of autocorrect to the size of your fonts to which Twitter URL and image services you use. Taurus also has a themes tab under settings letting you choose from four different color and texture themes to suit the app to your tastes.
Beyond all of this, Taurus possess the ability to post to all of your networks at once. Like other things it's not clear that Taurus can do this until you start poking around in the columns settings and find "Share" under Productivity - yeah, it doesn't make sense to us either. But selecting that will put a new column into whatever dashboard you're viewing at the time with a list of your accounts that you can tap to multi-select and then hit the chat icon button to post to all at once. The app does seem to lack a character counter, something that would be especially useful when Twitter is a selected account. Additionally, though you can upload images through individual services, there's no option to upload an image through the Share dialog.
There is one part of Taurus that we saw as both cool and a little perplexing. The notification icon for Taurus includes buttons to open a pop-over share or pinboard panel over top of any app. While the share option lets you pick from multiple accounts as the share column does in the app, composing your post to those multiple accounts is done by way of a tiny in-panel keyboard without the support of selecting, copying, or pasting. The pinboard is even more confounding, lacking any way to input text manually, instead bearing the words "Paste here" with a finicking past option and a close button hidden in a gear menu.
Despite all of the customization options, Taurus isn't the best Twitter or Facebook client or a superior Google Reader app. It's a rather good version of each, but in trying to do everything there are sacrifices that had to be made in the name of usability and consistency. Taurus has notifications, but they're not nearly descriptive enough, for instance lacking information about who mentioned you on Twitter and what they said. The various dialogs that pop up can only be closed with a tap on the top-left 'X" button, even if there's plenty of space outside of the box (and there's often plenty of wasted speace in the box). The use of fonts is also confusing, with the pop-over dialogs filled with Times New Roman while the dashboards and columns themselves use the standard clean modern Prelude webOS font. We had no issue getting web pages to view in the in-app browser, but Facebook photos almost universally failed to load. Noticeable lag was also present thoughout Taurus, most noticeably with the juddering transitions between dashboards.
All in all this was a brilliant effort put forth by one of our favorite webOS developers Jack Newcombe. Yes there are glitches and missetps, but that’s to be expected with the first run and there's nothing that can't be fixed about Taurus. It's just the beginning for this app, and with a little bit of polish we wouldn't be surprised to see Taurus become a favorite among webOS users. At $3.99, some might balk at the price, but just look at the customization options offered - it's your networks and your news and your tasks all arranged and displayed how you want them. You can't get that in any other app - or on any other platform.