HP webOS 2.1: what we know, what we don't
HP webOS 2.1, or 2.X if you’re HP and don’t want to commit to a specific version number until release, is an interesting piece. It’s not so much interesting for what’s in it - we’ve largely already uncovered everything already in webOS 2.1. What’s interesting is the long convoluted story of webOS 2.1. Actually, stuff like Touch-to-Share, Exhibition, and Enyo are pretty interesting too. Oh, and there's also webOS 2.2 to discuss. So buckle up, ‘cause it’s about to get bumpy.
What we know:
webOS 2.0.1 is out on the Palm Pre 2. webOS 2.1 is available for European Palm Pre Plus devices. webOS 2.1, or a minor revision thereof, will launch on the HP Veer. webOS 2.2 appears destined for release on the HP Pre 3, at least according to the footnotes on HP’s website for the phone. And it’s a big giant maybe-probably-not as to whether or not any pre-Pre 2 devices will get any version of webOS 2.X. Except the European Pre Plus, which very well may. And for those of you that won’t be able to update to webOS 2.0/2.1/2.2/2.X, HP has promised to “make things right” in some manner as-of-yet unrevealed. See, it’s convoluted.
To break it down in a more simple manner: devices from the Pre 2 on will run webOS 2.X. Older devices (original Pre and Pixi and plus variants) could receive an update to webOS 2.X, but probably won’t.
All that out of the way, here’s what we do know: Exhibition is finally present in webOS 2.1. It works great on the Pre Plus and Veer (the only devices we’ve seen it demonstrated on), though the only included Exhibition modules are the clock (now with a background if you so desire), calendar agenda, and photo slideshow (with selectable album). Facebook and a handful of other third party apps support Exhibition, but it’s slim pickings for now. Given how many webOS 2.1 devices there are out there (very few, in case you were confused), that’s not surprising.
webOS 2.X (back to convoluted) will also bring support for Touchstone identification, such that you can have different Exhibition behaviors on different Touchstone chargers. This is all dependent upon your having a second-generation Touchstone charger, otherwise known as the Touchstone v2, which we expect to include a “communication coil” to facilitate this kind of identification. Current generation Touchstone chargers are merely dumb power transmitters, though they are still compatible with the newer webOS devices.
And then there’s webOS 2.2. This version of webOS brings support for Touch-to-Share, which will allow you to easily transmit information between your TouchPad and Pre 3, using the aforementioned Touchstone-tech communication coils. Why that instead of NFC, we don’t know. webOS 2.2’s support for the communication coils will also allow for the sharing of phone notifications onto the TouchPad, with messaging notifications and phone calls getting routed to your TouchPad over Bluetooth. Video calling support will also be built into webOS 2.2. Of course, you’ll need the front-facing camera of the Pre 3 to do it, though we’re sure there’ll be something in 2.2 for the Veer and whatever other devices get webOS 2.X as well.
There’s plenty more to mention for webOS 2.X that most of us still haven’t experienced. Stacks, Just Type search and Quick Actions, an updated App Catalog, voice dialing, support for Adobe Flash 10.1, favorites, Text Assist, Skype (on Verizon only, sadly), and the QuickOffice document viewer. We first got to see these all in action back in October, so we won’t bore you by rehashing all the details here. If you want to refresh yourself, check out our review of webOS 2.0.
Those are just the user-facing features of webOS 2.X. Also integrated in some version (if we had to guess, we’d say 2.2, based on the demo from the Think Beyond developer event) will be support for third party apps built on HP’s next-generation Enyo webOS application framework. Enyo takes the web-language basis of HP’s older Mojo framework and cranks it up to 11. Enyo does obfuscate much of the web programming, at least as far as the developer is concerned, but the result is easier programming (once you get over the not-writing-in-HTML-anymore learning curve) and enhanced modularity.
All told, HP expects that Enyo will make it even easier to build richer apps, though we have to say the most awesome part of Enyo (at least from our perspective as the non-developers) is that its designed to make it markedly easier to build apps that work on multiple screen sizes (i.e. 320x480 on the Veer, 480x800 on the Pre 3, and 768x1024 on the TouchPad).
What we don’t know:
The biggest unknown right now is the most frustrating: we don’t know which devices will be getting webOS 2.X, and how they’ll get them. Right now the Pre 2 has webOS 2.0.1, which was received as an over-the-air update from webOS 2.0, while the lesser-spec’d European Pre Plus has received webOS 2.1, but only as a downloaded-to-and-installed-from-the-computer webOS Doctor, an update that brought the devices up from webOS 1.4.5.
Meanwhile, original Pre owners, those with Pixi phones of all stripes, and those on Verizon and AT&T with the Pre Plus are on 1.4.5 and wondering if they’ll ever get webOS 2.X. We can’t say that they will, and we were inclined to bet against the possibility until HP went and released the 2.1 Doctor for Europe’s Pre Plus phones. Like we said, it’s frustrating. To add to that frustration is some confusion: how is it that Pre Plus phones have webOS 2.1 while the notably more capable Pre 2 doesn’t yet, especially the unlocked Pre 2 phones?
Also an unknown is Touch-to-Share. We aren’t entirely positive on how it works, though apparently some HP reps have said that it works over Bluetooth, using the communication coils merely to establish the “we’re going to share stuff now” handshake. Then again, some HP reps have also said that the Veer has an LED flash for the camera hidden behind the speaker grille, which it most definitely does not. That said, Bluetooth does make perfect sense for this feature.
Lastly as an unknown isn’t something directly related to webOS 2.0/2.1/2.2/2.X (we’ll be really happy when everybody’s on webOS 3.0). It’s what HP means by “something to make things right.” They say they’re working on something for those of us that aren’t going to get webOS 2.X (i.e. likely everybody with an original Pre or any Pixi in their pocket), but we don’t know what that is.
For all we know HP could still be devising a method for a reliable via-your-PC update path, though the homebrew crowd has taken to that quite quickly. HP could also be sticking with their original statement of needing to focus their resources elsewhere and be working out a discounted upgrade for those stuck with un-upgradeable phones. We’re not going to say that we are demanding a discount on new hardware, but we wouldn’t turn one away if it were offered.