It's time for webOS on the HP TouchPad to reclaim gestures [editorial]
It was one of those genius features of webOS that just blew minds, and once you were used to it, your muscle memory had you trying it on other devices without thinking: the gesture area. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried swiping the chin of an iPhone or iPod Touch to go back. Heck, I’ve done the same a few times with my HP TouchPad. And considering that it’s a webOS product, that’s a bit on the disappointing side.
Palm blew the door wide open on gestures with the original Palm Pre, and that idea has all but faded away with the TouchPad. I don’t particularly blame HP for dropping the gesture area – expanding touch sensitivity down a few millimeters on the phones was no big deal; adding half an inch of touch panel to every side of an any-direction display will add up quickly. Plus, for all its awesome intuitiveness, the gesture area just wasn’t discoverable. There’s a reason Palm had a quick gesture tutorial to show you how to get around on first boot.
But after a little over a month with the TouchPad, I think it’s time for webOS to reclaim the gesture high ground before it’s completely ceded to the likes of RIM and Apple. HP, here’s your mission: implement cross system gesture controls into webOS. For inspiration, I want you to look to a popular webOS app – Carbon – and to both iOS and Max OS X.
We’ll start with Carbon. Genius developer dots & lines implemented a multi-directional two-finger swipe the dubbed “power scroll” in Carbon. Swiping up or down with two fingers will take you to the top or bottom of the page, while a two finger swipe back will drop you back from whatever scene your in to the last timeline you were viewing. It’s really quite simple, and the code has been adopted into a few other apps and a patch for the web browser.
So step one is power scroll v2.0: two fingers up and down to jump to the top or the bottom of any scrollable page. Two fingers to the left to go back, two fingers to the right to go forward. Those two fingers could also be used to grab and drag Enyo panels from anywhere in the panel instead of just on the drag handles.
Step two is multitasking gestures. Right now the TouchPad has a little in the way of that in the form of a swipe up from the bottom throwing the tablet up into card view, and then another swipe opening up the launcher. You can actually swipe up with two fingers to go straight to the launcher. Technically, the TouchPad is detecting two single finger swipes and going into card view as the launcher is opened (if you swipe with two fingers with the launcher up, it gives a double “swish” sound but the launcher never goes away).
webOS has a head start there. It’s simple, easy, and once your in card view, switching around is easy as pie. But I’d like for a few more things. For one, I want the wave launcher back. HP figured out how to detect inbound bezel swipes (likely using the same edge-pixel touch detection method as the BlackBerry PlayBook – neither device actually has touch-sensitive bezels) for the swipe up, and there’s no reason they couldn’t adapt that to bring back the wave launcher.
The second part of step two is to borrow from Apple (they’ve borrowed plenty over the years from Palm OS and webOS, so don’t feel bad): multitasking gestures. On phones with gesture areas there’s still the option to swipe across the entire gesture area to switch between apps. Without a gesture area, that’s impossible on webOS. What is possible are multi-finger gestures. Like the old “advanced gestures” switch, this is the kind of thing meant for users who are digging around in the settings. Average Joe doesn’t need to know about it and will still be able to use webOS just fine without the advanced gestures. So here it is, lifted straight from iOS 4.3 and Mac OS X Lion: a three-finger swipe to the left or right in full app view to switch to the app to the left or right if you were to go into card view. Alternatively, you could borrow from the PlayBook and use inbound bezel swipes from the left or right to accomplish the same thing, but given that’s also how one goes to card view, it could be confusing if accidentally discovered.
There you have it, HP: two fingers to scroll to the top or the bottom, two fingers to go back and forward, two fingers to drag panels around, three fingers to switch between running apps, and the glorious return of the wave launcher. The gestures are easy and intuitive, but yet not essential to know how to operate the device. It gives the power user something to make their tablet even more functional and faster, and helps webOS reclaim the gestures crown from the competition.