It's time for webOS on the HP TouchPad to reclaim gestures [editorial] | webOS Nation

It's time for webOS on the HP TouchPad to reclaim gestures [editorial] 54

by Derek Kessler Mon, 01 Aug 2011 3:02 pm EDT

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.


I cant tell you how many times I've tried the back swipe on my TP. It's so natural. HP needs to bring that back in a future update.

Me to! And I want the wave back, it's my favorite gesture.

I want a two finger back swipe anywhere on the screen to function as the back gesture

Not only that, but to pledge that they will put the gesture bar on all the phones.

I can't imagine doing the multipoint swipes on a smaller screen like a phone.

I constantly try to "gesture" between open cards on the TP, it is driving me slightly more insane than I was previous.

Ohh and the damn backswipe as said above, constantly doing that too.

I constantly use the old gestures... An HP employee actually laughed when they saw me do it. The gestures were great, proved by RIM stealing them...

submit this as a feature request...the more requests of the same feature...better chance they would listen...eventhough i have my doubts with them...

I was thinking 3 finger swipe is fine, but a 5 finger grab and sweep the screen would look and feel more intuitive (like sweeping a large paper/card to the side off a stack, maybe this could be the geture to skip between stacks?) Iguess it would be only a TP gesture though since 5 fingers are a bit much for the phones (in the screen size department).

I'm not sure they can track that many points at once.

I think the pre was able to detect 6 mice (touch screen) so i am guessing the touchpad can atleast to 6 as well.

how come playbook stole all of this? didnt HP have patents??

pls reply

fighting with (software) patents is for loosers and iDiots, much nicer to fight with innovation!

(Software patents should be abolished imho)

Why not stick a gesture area on the next iteration of the keyboard? It would make the keyboard a much more appealing accessory. I don't mind 1 or 2 finger gestures but 3+ is a stretch for me. I think OSX Lion's implementation of 3-5 finger gestures is absurd and absolutely unnecessary. I got dizzy watching the demo video. Or perhaps it just makes more sense to keep gesture area on the phones? I can live with that.

I jailbroke my parents' iPad1 and tried out the 4-5 finger swipes.... It's stupid IMO. Your hand covers the whole damn screen and it's not 100%, even on such a sensitive and accurate screen as on the iPad. I use it only because there are no gestures otherwise.

You don't need to "jailbreak" an iPad for the multitouch gestures. I have multitouch gestures enabled, and have never jailbroken my iPad.

I love 'em. Think its great, although the button is fine too. I mostly like them for swiping between apps/pages.

I understand jailbreaking isn't required for gestures. At the time, Xcode cost money I wasn't willing to spend to access it. Besides, I also implemented iUsers (user profiles), which *does require jailbreaking.*

You're entitled to your opinion, as am I. I think they're unnecessary on a tablet, though I love using gestures on my Pre+ and I don't know what I'd do without them.

** correction **

I think the existing gestures on the TP are fine. Although, just as on the Pre+/Pixi+ and Pre2, the button can be done without. Implement a tap at the bottom of the screen to minimize to card view and throw the ribbon launcher in for good measure. I don't hardly use that, but what could it hurt?

Great stuff as always Derek... totally agree.

I think Derek needs to think before he posts, Apple patents most of their gestures. "Lifting" those same gestures would just invite a lawsuit.

That "power scroll" only works for scrolling down in Carbon, not for scrolling back up. (At least, it's never worked for me.) It also often misconstrues a single thumb scroll as a two-finger scroll...flinging me to the bottom of the page. It's probably the most frustrating "feature" in any app on my Pre 2.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I was thinking about building a demo to test the different gestures out on the device itself. I feel HP could implement this stuff pretty easily assuming the proper events and touch count is available.

Doing away with gestures is the greatest mistake HP has made with webOS. Gestures was most definately the strongest USP of webOS, one that completely set it apart from any other OS. With gestures, webOS truly worked like none other. Instead of turning webOS into just another me too OS, HP needs to once again set apart webOS from the rest by bringing back gestures as much as they can with the current hardware and with future hardware they must consider bringing back the original gesture area.

Perhaps one reason HP is retreating on the gesture front is a legal one. They don't want to fight patent holders on this "technology", especially Apple, who's got patents for pinch-to-zoom and multi-finger swiping. It doesn't matter if these patents are defensible or not, all that matters is the huge cost of defending against litigation. Ask Samsung right now.

This is just speculation, but it seems plausible... Maybe HP should start focusing on nose gestures, or elbow gestures. Then they'd be safe.

that pinch-to-zoom was definitely apple. but the pre had it and apple didn't sue. maybe because palm has been doing pda since i can remember and they have have a thicker patent portfolio than apple when it comes to these things?

when palm went on the market, i thought that that was actually the main reason for the other suitors (htc?)...just to acquire palm's patent portfolio.

Yeah, they probably didn't want to get into a patent fight with Palm, and now that HP owns Palm's patents they probably don't want to get into a patent fight with HP.

Palm _has_ pinch-to-zoom, unlike android they introduced it first off. A patent suit w/ Palm would not be good for Apple.
Anyways, Palm patented Gestures AFTER palm had gestures on the Pre, so prior art.. it's just too easy. Palm can actually sue Apple for gestures if they wish.

Pure speculation is not valuable to this site

Apple *does* hold a patent for pinch-to-zoom, although it's unclear whether the WebOS implementation violates this:

Oh, and here's an Apple patent for swiping gestures, awarded just this June:

Discussion is valuable to this site, sanaking. Your dismissive attitude, not so much.

The from the bezel up works most of the time (sometimes it taps what you slide up over), so they (or we) should be able to do the same with a 'swipe from the right bezel to the left' for a "back" gesture.
Adding the others would be welcomed, but I would imagine it might take a while to get those developed and tested and in production builds.

A back gesture should be the exact same thing as the swipe up one and be fairly easy to implement and it would tide us over till more major additions can be made.

As for the advanced ones, we should add in there that we want to be able to swipe away cards that are off to the side and not have to bring them center first. [Like we can on the Pre]

The swipe-from-side gestures are uncomfortable on most phones, with their narrow bezels:

I miss the back swipe also...but honestly, with the larger-format device, it's not a deal breaker. I'm usually holding the device with two hands, so back-swipe is not practical.

Now, if it disappears from the Pre, that will be a different story!

Adding back/forward swipes to the left and right edges of the bezel just like the up swipe is on the bottom would be key. As you hold it with both hands your thumbs are in a perfect position to utilize such gestures. Also you can use the bottom half only for task swithcing. like the first inch from bottom to top can be dedicated to advanced task switching using the same gesture.

It was a genius feature, but unfortunately you had to be a genius (or tech savvy or just really curious about your device) to find it. It wasn't for the masses, which is what HP was aiming for with the Touchpad.

HPalm also needs to do better advertising on dragging up the wave bar while in an app. (If it's not in the tablet, they should add it in) That is a "sleeper" gesture that many aren't aware of and it is impressive to see someone use. Many iPhone users have been impressed by that gesture alone.

thanks for writing about this. The webOS 3.0 team has failed using common sense. Multi-finger gestures are the most intuitive way to go and instead they chose to add on-screen buttons for things like back/forward navigation!

I hope they are reading articles like this, to get their act together....

My reply bellow explains why single finger is so much better then multi finger. I have never really been a fan of multi finger gestures especially since there are a number of ways to implement single finger and make it as intuitiveness as it was on the phones and make it semi universal across all devices.

I want Back/Forward gestures back more then anything. Especially when browsing the web or the app catalog. Or anything else that requires you to hunt for a back button. The best way to implement this if you ask me is making them be on the left and right 1st pixel edges just like swipe up is at the bottom. Considering you hold the TP with two fingers on each side this would be perfect for your thumbs to maneuver with... First inch from bottom to top could be dedicated to task switching using the same gestures.

As for multi finger gestures.. eh... I can do without for now but maybe as API for apps. Otherwise i want my gestures around the bezel. The wave launcher would be nice to have back if not a "swipe" if finger continues past first bottom pixel without leaving screen Wave bar would be nice to come active.

Key thing about single finger gestures is that you can use stylus with ease! also great for individuals with disabilities. Oh and you don't have to try and remember how many fingers does what! That drives me nuts on apple products when i have to try multiple gestures just to find the right one.

although a nice idea, it has the same ambiguity with the dedicated gesture area (which is probably why HP didn't put one on the TouchPad). Enyo uses the multi-panels metaphor, thus such 'global' gestures are difficult to know which panel they apply to. It will work for things like a full screen browser but things like the Mail app, not so much. HP 'solved' this ambiguity by switching to on-screen buttons, however I think we all agree that was a bad idea.

We need a uniform approach that works on all UI scenarios supported by the TouchPad. Multi-finger gestures are a much more intuitive/'natural' and powerful way than on-screens buttons to do this. I do agree that if overdone, it can get confusing (people talking about 4-5 finger gestures etc)

What about panel sliding can be controlled via back/forward gestures for enyo apps that use panels and apps like the App Catalog, browser, preware, or anything else a developer might create or port from another platform that utilizes universal back gestures.

I can tell you why HP dropped gestures from webOS 3.0: they won't work on the laptops and desktop computers they plan to sell that can run webOS. The touchscreens on HP laptops and desktop monitors have no gesture areas.

I think you are probably right, although I'll argue that the 'touchpads' (the other kind ;)) on laptops are more than capable serving that purpose. Apple's multi-finger gestures work very nicely on their laptops

Tim -

There is definitely some of our most Uniquely webOSque features missing on the TouchPad. My complaints can be found in my post, Uniquely webOSque features gone in 3.0, lost opportunities to stand out against competitors!
You have some interesting ideas on how to fix the missing gestures and wave launcher via only software updates. Would love to hear your thoughts on my suggestions.

For marketing every app needs a back button BUT for experienced users gestures are much needed. It annoys me to have to search the screen in every app to find the back button/arrow/home/whatever button. Then to have to move my hand from the bottom, across the screen and my view in for example pre central, press the button and return is clumsy.

It is like touch typing - there are letters on the keyboard if you don't know where the keys, but the home keys are marked with a dot or similar for those who touchtype.

Derek, thank you for reiterating the same thing I have been telling HP. Maybe they will listen to you.

Why not borrow from honeycomb (forget about the bezel) and have a constant black bar at the bottom of the screen. But instead of their function keys have that be the gesture area. That way no matter which way you turn the Touchpad it's there. Then all devices will have a gesture area and you can scale old apps to pixels left on the screen. I don't think it would be to many pixels to give up.

Amen. Minimally, bring back the forward and back swipe gestures. I hate the back button because the location and glyph is inconsistent from app to app.

Right on Derek. With all the multi-tasking prowess of webOS the ability to quickly switch between cards is paramount for productivity. The webOs 1.x and 2.x Advanced Gestures are a godsend for this.

I really hope that HP doesn't take all the multi-finger gesture swipe feedback and give us all the one-finger salute.

One big drawback for me of Apple products is iTunes. If that is going away, and webOS is going to lose its usability advantages, there's more parity between the platforms which would make it real easy for me to just jump on board with the i-devices. Just seyin'


double tap to bring up a gesture area on the screen that way it can be any orientation and does not have to take up screen real-estate if the consumer doesn't want it to, and then it could also be used whether the keyboard is displayed or not.

I agree, HP, please bring back gestures. This is what made webos devices fun, natural to use, and unique. taking gestures away makes a webos device like any other. Part of the reason I don't like the iphone and other devices is lack of gestures!

I hope they are listening :|

I don't owe a pad yet, but played with one a couple of weeks ago, I just couldn't get, why something so good and so intuitive has been left out!! ???
Moreover, I even miss (on my Pre+) the button in the middle of the gesture area, that the first Pre had. It's just much too many times I have to touch the gesture area or swipe to minimize an open app. This was BETTER with the first Pre!
So from my pov it already was Palm, that made something so good worse with a new device - I acutally believe (I really do), that the industrie is infected with insanity and play the game of bettering something and not being able to have unchanged other things that were good; perhaps an infection that goes all over this planet, into every branch and home.
The Iphone e.g. brought us a cool new display and Palm also brought it, even with a better OS, but all MUCH MUCH slower than the PalmOS was. TIMES MUST CHANGE! :-)

Reading ohiomoto's comment, I thought Derek should post a poll on this.

TP is fine with icons.
TP should have some gestures implemented (back, app launcher, wave strip)
TP should have all the gesters of the Pre

I'd be interested to see the results.

Derek -- Huzzah to that (great article). Your last paragraph pretty much sums-up what I think: There's no reason why Gestures have to make WebOS difficult. If you want to use the back button -- great, it's there. If you want to use the back-swipe or wave bar: great, it's there too (ie: keep both approaches).

Here's hoping.

I really hope HP is listening