Preview: webOS 3.0 Beta 1 emulator leak [Exclusive]
It's been a few weeks since HP released the webOS 3.0 SDK into the Early Access Program. In the intervening weeks countless developers have applied for admission, and while we don't know what the admission process is, we imagine a large number got in. Thus, it should come as no surprise that an awesome (and anonymous) tipster has leaked the SDK. Now we’re ready to dive in and pick through everything there and see what’s good and what still needs work.
The emulator in question is still in beta, so keep in mind that some things may change and others are not complete. Performance of the emulator can in no way be correlated to real world performance, as it’s running on much more powerful hardware, but yet doing so in emulation which requires some heavy processor lifting. Additionally, we’re using a mouse to operate a touch interface. In other words: this is beta at best and we are sure that plenty of features will change, look different, and possible even disappear before release.
Those disclaimers out of the way, head on past the break where we dive right in, with video, pictures, and words, to show you what all is new in the emulator, most of which we dearly hope to see when 3.0 and the TouchPad are made available sometime this summer.
The basic webOS experience has not changed much as far as the app launching experience is concerned. The basic “home screen,” if you will, is mostly your wallpaper, with a menu bar across the top, Just Type search box below that, and a Quick Launch dock across the bottom. The emulator ships with Browser, Email, and Calendar in the dock, and though we couldn’t add any app icons to it, we’ve seen enough demos to know it can be done.
To access the rest of your apps, the familiar arrow/home button in the bottom right brings up a new tabbed launcher. The Launcher app menu is currently disabled, but we’re assuming that once launched we’ll have the option to do things like add new tabs. Right now there are two tabs: All and Favorites. All is an alphabetical list of all installed apps (separated by letter in a clever horizontal-row setup), while Favorites is a selection of apps laid out in a grid. You can switch between the tabs by tapping on a tab title, or by merely swiping left or right within the launcher. As is customary with webOS, you can put as many icons as you like on one page.
Rearranging apps has taken a more iOS-esque turn. You still tap and hold on an icon to move it, but now the launcher enters an edit mode where you can move around apps at will, remove them from a customized launcher page, or delete them (if in all). A Done button appears in the top right corner to mark your editing as complete and save the changes.
The device menu is still in the top right corner, now paired with the clock. Tapping on it opens a familiar menu containing the date, battery percentage, a brightness slider, toggles for VPN, Airplane Mode, Rotation Lock and Mute. Tapping on any of the last three will add a corresponding icon to the menu bar, letting you know at a glance that said option has been enabled.
Accessed by tapping on the Just Type bar in card view, Just Type is a sort of amalgamation between Just Type in webOS 2.0 and the webOS 3.0 launcher. It’s taken on the tabbed interface and muted gray appearance of the 3.0 launcher while maintaining all of the functionality of Just Type. When you first tap on the search bar you’re presented with your recent searches and the virtual keyboard. Start typing your search and Just Type automagically searches your device for matching results and potential Quick Actions.
The tabs are All, Contacts (matching contact results), Content (searches of your Emails, Browser history, Music, etc), and Actions. Actions is where you’ll find app launching, web search (with Google Suggest), and Quick Actions. While all of these options are available under all, the tabbed categories help bring all of the power of Just Type search into a more user-friendly package than the monolithic list we’re presented with in 2.0.
We suppose it’s not really fair to review a virtual keyboard in a mouse-driven emulator, but here goes. The webOS 3.0 virtual keyboard is a five-line affair, unlike the four-lines found in other tablet devices. A narrow number row stretches across the top, providing access not just to the numbers but ten more alternate characters (the options are exactly the same as on your standard QWERTY keyboard).
By default the letter keys are lowercase, not shifting to uppercase until you tap on the shift key. At the same time, the number keys switch to their alternate characters, with the numbers becoming smaller and the alternates larger. Double tapping on the shift key puts the keyboard into caps lock, and thankfully enough forethought was given that it behaves exactly like a physical keyboard and leaves the numbers acting as numbers.
The “+=” button in the bottom left switches to the symbols view, replacing each letter with a single alternate symbol or pre-made emoticons. Now you might be thinking that this severely limits the number of available alternate characters, and you’d be right. Switching back to the letter view is the solution: tap and hold on the appropriate letter or number and you’re presented with a pop-up of matching options.
Obviously not all letters provide a pop-up option, but to our surprise the b key gave us preference choices. Holding on b presents keys to switch between QWERTY, AZERTY, and QWERTZ layouts (English, French, and German), a Prefs button, and Clear. Switching to other languages places a language key next to the space bar that quickly switches you back to the English layout. Prefs doesn’t seem to do much apart from not make the language key disappear.
Holding on x opens up a world of developer delight. You get five keys: Suggest, XT9 Regs, Regions, Rec, and Mute. XT9 Regs and Regions are the interesting ones of the two, as they allow you to check out the trigger areas for each key, which smartly fill the space between the keys in a colorful pattern of flattened hexagons. We’re not entirely clear on what Suggest, Rec, and Mute do, though Suggest does at least put the keyboard back into a more visually pleasing mode.
The bottom left corner of the keyboard is occupied by a key that alternatively reads Tab or Next, depending on what app you’re using (it usually will say Next). This key allows you to jump to the next available text field, making it easy to fill in multiple text boxes. This worked fine in apps, though it failed us to a degree in the browser (it almost always would just jump to the address bar and get stuck).
A button in the bottom right corner with a keyboard icon and down triangle serves two purposes. The first is the obvious one: it dismisses the keyboard off the screen. The second is a tap and hold function, which provides keyboard size options. Your choices range from XS to S to M to L, with XS filling the bottom 1/3 of the screen, while L takes up just over half (in landscape mode).
Lastly on the keyboard is the issue of text correction. webOS 2.0 introduced Text Assist with expanded text correction and custom user dictionaries. webOS 3.0 takes things a step further with text prediction. As you type, no matter the app, the system attempts to predict the word you’re typing by finishing it with letters highlighted in blue (selected text is still yellow). The predictions presented were useful enough, but we couldn’t figure out how to accept the text and move on. One note on the text prediction: it’s great everywhere but in Just Type search. More than a few times we had to deal with the text prediction changing our search results and forcing us to continue typing to get the complete word and dismiss the prediction.
As demonstrated at Think Beyond, notifications in webOS 3.0 have received a considerable update that preserves their spirit and usability. Instead of a notification area and dashboard across the bottom of the screen, the TouchPad now has a notification area at the top of the screen, right next to the device menu. Notifications occur in three manners that are pulled straight from older webOS versions: just an icon appears (with sound and vibration if so set), a message preview followed by just an icon (Messaging, for example), or pop-over notification that grabs your attention while still allowing you to continue interacting with the current app (ala Calendar). These notifications, as well as any dashboard controls like Music, can be accessed by tapping on the notification area in the menu bar, which then expands into a drop-down menu with your big-sized notifications.
As with older versions of webOS, you can swipe to dismiss a notification section. Unlike older versions of webOS, if you’ve received multiple notifications from one app (say, multiple emails or multiple messages), you can now swipe through them and triage down to a message you’re actually interested in. Doing so does not delete or mark as read the messages you’ve swiped away, it simply removes that single one from your notifications. You might be seeing a conflict between triaging and dismissing the notification for an entire app. If you have a stack of notifications, grabbing onto the message content (usually the sender and title/preview) allows you to triage through the messages, while grabbing onto the app icon allows you to swipe them all away. If there’s just one notification for an app, the message area and icon both serve to dismiss the whole thing.
We got a good look at the webOS browser at Think Beyond, and it’s taken the webOS web experience and amped it up to the larger screen. The navigation bar across the top has a standard back and forward button, address bar, and buttons that allow you to share your current page (share functions were not working in any apps in this version of the emulator), create a new browser card, and access your bookmarks, history, and downloads.
Browser (that is the new name, no longer “Web”) launches into a blank search screen. The grid of bookmarks icons is gone in the emulator, and we wouldn’t expect it to make a return this summer. We’ll miss it. Thankfully, your bookmarks are just one tap away.
Tapping on the Bookmarks/History button slides out a panel that will quickly become a familiar user interface piece in webOS 3.0. The panel has three buttons across the top: Bookmarks, History, and Downloads, and tapping on each will change the list below to the respective category.
The list itself is reminiscent of older versions of webOS, with the option to swipe items to the side to delete, and “i” info buttons on the right side for editing (bookmarks) and more info. Making the panel go away is as simple as either dragging the little three-column drag handle in the bottom left corner to the right, or just tapping the drag handle. Of course, you can also select a website from your bookmarks or history to load it and close the panel as well. A note on downloads: at least in the emulator, Browser only keeps track of your downloads so long as the emulator is active. Once you restart it forgets everything that’s been downloaded.
When a page is loading the download and rendering progress is show by a narrow bar across the bottom of the navigation bar. As the download occurs, the white bar is filled from left to right with blue, and when done it fades away. Browsing works like any other touch browser: drag the page around to scroll, double-tap to zoom, tap and hold to access a context menu (saving images, copying URLs, opening links in new cards, etc).
The navigation bar is omnipresent; it doesn’t scroll away with the page. While that means it will always be taking up part of the screen, it does mean that your navigation controls are always present.
The Calendar app in webOS 3.0 takes the best of the digital and paper calendar worlds and combines them. The interface is clean and reminiscent of a desktop calendar, with a leather-texture bar across the top (and perforated paper edge below) containing a color-matched list of your calendars. The current calendar view fills the middle of the screen, with the bottom containing buttons to create a new event, switch between day, week, and month views, jump to a specific date (not functional), and jump back to today. Each view has the day of the week and date across the top of the screen.
The day view is the default view, displaying your appointments for the day in a simple chronological list. The collapsed view wasn’t present in the emulator, nor have we seen it in any demonstrations of the TouchPad. Presumably we will be able to swipe left and right between days, but right now that’s not working.
On the subject of things that aren’t working, week view is not present at all. Tapping that button gives you a big blank space with little letters that say “Week TBD.” Month view, however, works just fine. It’s a little buggy, in that it only displays the events in days that you’ve already viewed, and shows the last day viewed as the date across the top. Like day view, there’s currently no option to switch to other months, but if we had to guess it would scroll up and down just like in current versions of webOS.
Despite the new design, Calendar in webOS 3.0 works almost exactly like Calendar in webOS 2.0 (or webOS 1.0 for that matter). Tapping on an event opens a dialog with event details that you can edit. Tapping on empty space in day view or the New Event button opens a new event scene (note: the New Event button currently populates with the current date and not the date you’re viewing). Concurrent events are staggered in day view and all-day events sit at the top of the day view in a single line. Month view is populated with little one-line title views of the day’s events. The calendars in the top bar can be individually tapped on to hide or show the selected calendars, or the Hide/Show all button can do the same for, well, all your calendars.
Contacts in webOS 3.0, at least in this version of the emulator, takes the two views of the phone-sized Contacts app and displays them as two panels. The left third of the screen is a list of your contacts, while the right side is the contact you’ve selected. Each view has been practically lifted right out of webOS 2.0, with the only changes being webOS 3.0 specific formatting (the letter row headers in list view are more muted, for example).
The top of the contacts list has buttons to switch between everyone and your favorites, and below that is a search bar to filter down to the one person you’re looking for. Tapping on a contact fills the right side with a stretched-out view of the Contacts app from webOS 2.0. Linked Contacts are still present, and the Edit button in the bottom right corner opens a familiar edit screen that looks and works just like webOS 2.0. The empty oval button at the bottom left of the contact view pane is the marks as Favorite button, it just is lacking the star to signify it as such. Contacts is unfinished, as far as UI polish is concerned, but it’s plenty functional for what it’s meant to do.
One of the definite hero Enyo apps of the Think Beyond presentation was the TouchPad Email app. This app’s UI is raw webOS 3.0. It takes the three-stages of the webOS 2.0 email app and spreads them out into three sliding panels on the screen. The left-most being the folders view, the middle the list of what’s inside the currently selected folder, and the right your actual message, scaled down to fit that space. When you switch from landscape view to portrait the folders panel disappears, but is still accessible. The limited horizontal real estate results in the content panel instead sliding off the screen instead of scaling everything down to a preview that’s just over a hundred pixels wide.
Sliding or tapping on the drag handles adjusts the views, though doing so only closes or opens the panel – there are no choices about how wide you get. The panels are “stacked” with the topmost on the right, tapping on that drag handle causes it to slide over the other two and give you an instant full-screen message view. The email view is a little finicky about how it scales and zooms, especially with “narrow” messages like those you’ll receive from Twitter. Sometimes it stretches to fill the screen, while other times it is enlarged but with paper-like borders on either side to keep it to a reasonable size.
The bottom of the list view contains three buttons: compose, refresh, and a checkbox icon mass edit. The mass edit is a new one for webOS, tapping it allows you to select multiple messages (or just one) to add flags, move, or delete en masse.
Email composition happens in a separate card, as with previous versions of webOS. The composition card is not full-width in landscape mode (in fact, it’s 768 pixels wide to transition without issue to portrait) and is fairly bare bones. There's a bit more baking to be done here (notably with formatting options in the compose screen and background updates when the app is closed), but as before we're overall quite pleased with how email is shaping up in webOS 3.
Introduced in webOS 2.1, Exhibition in 3.0 has received a super-sizing. It’s bigger, and if it worked well in the emulator, we might be able to tell you that it’s also better. But we can’t, as it simply didn’t work that well. Launching the Exhibition app gives you a stretched-out view of the Exhibition app in 2.1. The Launch Exhibition button is present, and tapping that launches the emulator into Exhibition mode. The Time, Agenda, and Photos options are still present, but as of right now only Time is functional.
You’re presented with a modern blue analog clock with the day and date in text below. It’s not at all evident, but you can swipe to the left to switch to a big-number flip clock with the date below or a more traditionally-styled analog clock with the day and date inside.
Maps has received a substantial overhaul in webOS 3.0, and it’s beyond welcome. When webOS was first introduced, the Google Maps app was acceptable, if lacking in a few areas. In the intervening two years it’s gone from okay to the laughing stock of the mobile space. webOS 3.0 fixes this, firstly by no longer hosting the app in the cloud like Google Maps has long been, and secondly by completely rethinking the interface. Oh, and they’ve switched map providers to this little group called “Bing.”
The top of the maps app is dominated by a search bar with buttons to open view preferences and bookmarks. The rest of the space is pure map. Tapping on the search bar brings up the virtual keyboard so you can execute a search. It also opens a small dialog below the search box that lets you quickly select one of your bookmarks or recent searches. Switching to the Directions button adds a second search box titled “End” (the first being “Start”) that functions in exactly the same manner. If Maps doesn’t understand your query in either box, a panel will slide in from the left with suggested search results, and pins pointing them out on the map. The currently selected result gets a blue pin, the rest red, and selecting a new suggestion will move the map center to that result.
That same sliding panel displays your routing information when you perform a directions search, and it behaves in the same manner: tap on a step and the map moves to that location with a pin dropped right there. With both views you can slide the panel away and the results/steps are instead displayed in a translucent bar at the bottom with forward and back buttons to step through the results and a button to return to the list panel.
Tapping on the “i” button in the top bar will slide in an options panel from the right (you can only have one panel out at a time, so opening a new one will close the other). In here you can drop a pin on the map, and then drag it elsewhere to get information about that location, turn on GPS auto-location, and change your map view. Being that this is Bing Maps, your options are Road (traditional), Aerial (satellite and plane footage), and Bird’s Eye (Bing’s 45° view). Bird’s Eye provides a more three-dimensional view of the area (though not quite as three-dimensional as Google’s Honeycomb maps app) and allows you to zoom in quite close for detail not available from the aerial footage. Bing Maps’ online site allows you to rotate through the Bird’s Eye views available (typically four, one for each cardinal direction), though that option does not seem to be available in the 3.0 Emulator.
The star button in the top right corner opens up a list of your favorites and recent search results. That’s right, there are now favorites in webOS. Tapping on any one will reposition the map over that spot. Getting directions to there, however, has to happen from the directions search boxes. Tapping on the pin dropped by a favorite doesn’t provide any options.
While we’re sad to see Google given the heave-ho in favor of Bing, we can somewhat understand the move. Google partnered with Palm to build a state-of-the-art cloud-based app for webOS and never managed to make substantial improvements to the webOS mapping experience. With Bing, HP gets to build a fully functional maps app, take advantage of an existing partnership with Microsoft (Bing is the default search engine on HP PCs and the Bing search bar is preinstalled as well), and perhaps offer Microsoft some small consolation that one of their biggest partners is rolling with a competing platform.
Memos in webOS 3.0 takes the stick-note UI from the previous Memos apps and scales it up. Gone are the fun cork pad and push pins, replaced by a drab, dreary neutral gray paper/fabric background that we can’t help but associate with cubicle walls (we're holding out hope for a coat of paint here). Your memos are still arrayed in a grid of randomly askew notes with previews of the text inside (the font size no longer changes), and the top left spot is still the new memo button. A bar stretches across the top with a count of your memos, a search box in the center, and an edit button at the far right.
Tap on any memo or create a new one and you’re presented with a large-size preview that darkens the other memos in the background. To go back, tap in that darkened space. This is both the editing and reading view. The top bar changes to include an “All Memos” button, buttons to select the background color of your memo (the same pastel yellow, blue, pink, and green as before), and buttons to delete the memo and share it.
Moving notes around has changed. No longer can you tap and hold on a memo to move it. Instead there’s an Edit button in the top right corner that allows you to delete and rearrange your memos. Tapping that button puts a small “x” button on the top left corner of each memo that you can tap to delete (you do get a confirmation prompt). We couldn’t get the memos to drag around in the emulator, but there’s no reason to expect that functionality to not be present in the final release.
Like Contacts, Messaging in webOS 3.0 has taken its webOS 2.0 version and splayed it out over two panes. The left pane is your list view of your conversations, your IM buddies, or your favorites, topped by a status selector with custom status message options. The right side is a super-sized view of your conversation, with a compose box at the bottom and communication method selector at the top right. In essence, it’s the same set-up webOS has had since the beginning, just all at once. Unlike contacts, the right panel holding the conversation can slide to fill the entire screen.
Of course, this being the emulator and there being no webOS 2.2 phones to pair with, the only options for Messaging were instant messaging clients, which worked well enough. As with the current version of webOS, notifications when out of the Messaging app first appear as a short preview in the notification area, followed by a collapse down to icon size.
The Music app in webOS 3.0 is an entirely new beast. It more resembles a desktop music player than a mobile app, which we suppose is fitting given that it’s designed for use on a 10-inch screen. The launch scene is that of a fixed two-pane interface, with your library sort options and playlists on the left and the lists of that stuff on the right. A control bar sits at the bottom, with the standard forward, back, and play/pause buttons, a long scrubber bar, repeat and shuffle buttons, a volume slider, and a full screen button.
The list view that dominates the screen holds whatever content view is afforded by the options on the left. Selecting Songs presents you with an alphabetical list of the music files on your device, with columns for song title, artist name, and album title. You can tap on any of those three headers to sort alphabetically by that column (a second tap sorts in reverse alphabetical).
Unfortunately, the emulator only supports .wav files, so while we had song titles for our loaded music, album titles and artist names weren’t available for demonstration. As a result, tapping on Artists or Albums under library resulted in a single “Unknown Artist” and just one “Unknown Album” as the only artists and albums displayed, though we could see enough that if we had albums and artists they’d be sorted in a separated alphabetical list.
We were able to create playlists using the “+” button under Playlists, but we couldn’t add any music to playlists we created. Search was fully functional in Music, just tap on the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner and then enter your search query in the resultant box.
Now, to that full screen button we know you’ve been wondering about. Tapping that launches Music into a pseudo-Cover Flow view of your music. For whatever reason, the emulator assigned Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as the album artwork for our artworkless .wav files. In this view the control bar still sits at the bottom, but a large horizontal scrolling view of all the songs in your current view is displayed above. You can swipe to the left and right to check out what other songs are in your playlist, but the music won’t switch until you tap on the actual album to play. This view is still a work in progress, with no spacing between the album covers, rather rudimentary play/pause shadow buttons, and none of the cool three-dimensional effects you might expect from a view like this.
The notification area player is still present in webOS 3.0, though it’s not quite as dynamic as the current versions (again, this is the beta emulator, so that may change). Opening the notification dashboard provides a mini player with forward, back, and play/pause buttons as well as the current track and artist playing. When the track playing is changed, a wider text notification expands in the top bar to let you know what’s playing next.
Photos & Videos
webOS 3.0 has combined two apps from the previous versions into one, and the resulting app is actually pretty decent. As demoed at Think Beyond, Photos and Videos seamlessly integrates your on device pictures with photos stored in online sources like Facebook. On launch you’re presented with a two pane interface with a list of your sources and albums on the left and the right side filled with pictures based on what’s selected on the left. You can slide the album view panel over to fill the screen if you so desire.
When any of the library options are selected the view on the right is that of horizontal scrolling images not unlike a filmstrip (except that everything is oriented correctly). These filmstrips are draggable, just drag to the left or right to view other photos in that album. You can tap on the album title (or the album in the left side list) to jump into the album view of those photos. Additionally, you can tap on a photo in the filmstrip to view that photo full screen.
In the album view your photos are laid out in a simple grid (it was four photos wide no matter if the list was collapsed or emulator in portrait or landscape). Controls in album view are appropriately simple. Tap on an album to view it full screen, tap the play button in the top right corner to start a slideshow, or tap the pencil edit button to perform mass edits in the album. Tapping edit changes the top bar to say Select All or Cancel, while a new bottom bar appears with buttons to share, move to a new album, or delete. Before you can do any of that, you must first select photos – just tap on the ones you want and their outlines change from gray to white. None of the options actually worked in the emulator, though we expect them to be functional by the time the TouchPad ships.
Tapping a photo (back in non-editing view here) in the filmstrips or album views will launch that photo to full screen. A translucent control bar across the top contains buttons to go back to the last view, start a slideshow, share, move, print, something that has to do with “…”, and comments. Slideshow, move, and comments were all functional; we have no clue what “…” is supposed to do. Comments synced directly from Facebook with no issue, though our Facebook pictures were strangely compressed (as if they were blown-up thumbnails).
Touted for the business professional using the TouchPad, QuickOffice suite promises to bring document viewing and editing (at launch? eventually?) to webOS 3.0. The app is present in the webOS 3.0 emulator, but it’s not in anything we’d describe as a serviceable state. The app launches fine and lists the files that are available on the device, but it is not able to connect to any of the external services, even when connected properly through Accounts. Additionally, QuickOffice couldn’t view any of the files that we loaded (we tested PDF, DOC, and XLS files).
There are two things worth noting. The first is that this is a beta emulator and not everything is going to work correctly. The emulator’s purpose is to assist in app development, not to edit documents. Second is that we’ve seen QuickOffice work in presentations, granted those were carefully crafted with documents that were guaranteed to work, but it does work in some form. Again, we expect this app to be more fully fleshed out by this summer.
There’s one last app that we know will warm the heart of any webOS fan, and it’s called System Preferences. This app serves one purpose, and that’s to consolidate all of the individual preferences apps into one easy-to-access interface. It’s a two-column app that is quite reminiscent of the iPad’s preferences app. The categories of preferences are listed along the left, and tapping on one opens that category’s options on the right. It’s simple and straightforward, as preferences should be.
Despite the presence of System Preferences, the individual preferences apps are all still present in the webOS 3.0 emulator. System Preferences is quite rough, though we can’t imagine it would take much to clean it up into something presentable.
The various individual preferences apps have not seen any appreciable changes in this version of the webOS 3.0 emulator. Additionally, the Tasks and Phone apps have not been updated (they’re a stretched versions of the smaller-screened webOS 2.0 version) and the Calculator app was not to be found. Copy/paste was not available in any manner we could fathom, though we do know it’s there, or at least will be when the tablet launches.
Several apps just were not functional at all. Adobe Reader opened as QuickOffice, the App Catalog won’t work without a Palm Profile, which the emulator doesn’t have, there’s a strange app called “Communication” that opens the old webOS email app, there were two versions of Software Manager, one that looks to be tablet-optimized, and the other the old webOS 2.0 version that actually works, and a handful of development apps that didn’t seem to do anything (or even launch for that matter).
WebOS Quick Install was able to recognize the emulator and install apps and load files with ease, and both Preware and Internalz opened in the emulator (though Preware was not without errors). The “gesture area emulator” has not yet been implemented, which did make using these apps a bit difficult.
This preview, all 5800+ words of it, has been on a beta emulator. The conclusions we can draw from this are limited, but they’re the kind that make us feel good. We see a lot of cool stuff in this emulator, and even if it’s a work in progress right now, it still makes us feel all warm and fuzzy about the approaching launch of the TouchPad. This summer can’t get here soon enough!