User interface changes in webOS 3.0
So it turns out that the HP TouchPad doesn’t run HP webOS 2.0. It runs webOS 3.0, a different beast than the 2.X we saw on the HP Veer and HP Pre 3. We’re not going to draw any comparisons to Android 3.0 for tablets and 2.3 for smartphones or mention anything about fragmentation or OS updates. But we will take a moment to look at how webOS has changed for the tablet form factor. The changes are both substantial and minute, and done to deal with the much large screen and the distinct lack of a gesture area.
There've been a lot of wholesale changes in webOS 3.0 to make it work better in a tablet situation, and we're mostly cool with these changes. After the break we'll break it down: Launcher, Notifications, virtual keyboard, Browser, Email, Messaging, Calendar, and Photos.
First up, there have been no changes to card view behavior - in webOS 3.0 you’ve got all the same options as webOS 2.X: swipe left and right to move between cards, tap and hold to drag around between stacks, and toss off the top to close. Card view does now rotate, but that’s the only real difference. The Just Type search bar still sits at the top, though you have to tap on it to bring up the virtual keyboard.
The launcher, however, has received a makeover to take advantage of the expansive screen real estate. The solid gray slide-up tray features tabs across the top for your app pages, though the spacing is still quite wide (five across in portrait orientation). The quick launch dock stays on the bottom, with five apps plus the launcher button visible in card view and in the opened launcher (unlike webOS 2.X, where the launcher disappears).
For one, the tablet does not have the notification bar that we’ve grown accustomed to with webOS to this date. Instead, notifications are nestled in the wider top bar up by the device menu with the time and battery. Tap on your familiar notification icons and, it opens a drop-down menu where you can view and act on your notifications. Not only that, but you can actively triage your notifications through here, e.g dismissing through a stack of messaging notifications to get to the one that’s actually worthy of your time.
Important notifications that demand immediate response, like a calendar event alarm, immediately pop up, with the dismiss and snooze UI we’re used to (just not taking up half the screen).
When locked, the notifications pop up in the center of the screen, and though we didn’t see it in action (just a static image on the screen), the music player still has on-screen controls even when the device is locked.
The virtual keyboard we saw on the TouchPad was in fact practically the same virtual keyboard that was in the HP design document we posted a few weeks back. It’s simple and straightforward, as any virtual keyboard ought be. It also includes a number line across the top, which makes us very happy.
The key size in the virtual keyboard in webOS 3.0 is adjustable in steps: XS, S, M, and L. The size differences are just in the vertical, with small filling up the bottom third of the screen while in landscape, and large at least half. If you need your miscellaneous special characters, there’s a += button in the bottom left to switch to that (though we didn’t get to see it). Product Management Director Sachin Kansal was rather excited by the number row during his on-stage demo, claiming that the added row saves users oodles of time by not having to switch back and forth to enter numerals. And if you’re wondering, a smaller version of this virtual keyboard is not present in webOS 2.X on the Pre 3 or Veer. They’ve got decent physical keyboards; that should be enough for you.
This is where we have to broach the topic of the TouchPad not having a gesture area. It was a much-touted feature of the original Pre, and now it’s gone, at least on the TouchPad with it’s numero tres version of webOS. Obviously that means that swiping to go back/forward in the browser is out. To compensate, the webOS 3.0 browser has gained a desktop-style toolbar across the top (it rolls away when you scroll down and reappears at the top) with (left to right) forward and back buttons, a url field, followed by what looks like share, new card, and bookmarks/history buttons. Speaking of bookmarks and history, that no longer opens up in a full-screen overlay, as that’d be silly. They’re now located in a side bar that comes in from the right, in a nice orderly list. You'll notice that the little progress wheel is gone now too, replaced by a thin progess bar that goes across the bottom of the toolbar and fills with blue as your page loads.
The Email app is where the big - and welcome - changes are. Though the multi-paned Enyo-built preview Email app was said to not be official, we can definitely see it (and the user interface document) at work here. The new Email app has three panels: accounts and folders, the list view, and your actual email. Getting between the three is where things get interesting: the bottom left corner of the email and list views have a grab handle you can, well, grab to drag to the left to open the higher-level panels, or to the left to close and open up more space for your email.
The email client has also gained multi-select (finally), though there are no checkboxes to be seen here. Okay, there’s one, and it’s in the toolbar below the list view. Tap on that to enter multi-select mode, and then select the emails you wanted to delete/move/whatever.
Changes in the Messaging app aren’t really ground-breaking. There were no mentioned new services, just a big tablet UI to make it easier. Your seamless conversation is in a big pane of the right, your contacts on the left. There is a grab handle (like in Email) at the top left of the conversation panel, and though we didn’t get to see it in action, presumably it works just like in Email: drag to the right to reveal your contacts, drag left to put them away.
Praise something of your choice: month view now actually lists your appointments. Then again, that’s what happens when you’ve got a big ‘ole screen to work on. The calendar UI has gone super spartan, and we’re cool with that. The day/week/month view dominates the screen, with toggles to switch between them at the bottom. Also at the bottom are the New Event, Jump To, and Show Today buttons.
What’s nice is when you’re in day view (the only view we got a good look at). You appointments are staggered like they are in the current webOS calendar, but the bigger screen allows so much more info to be displayed at once. A bar across the top shows your available calendars, along with little colored boxes in case you forgot which color you assigned to which calendar.
The grab handle is here too, with the right 2/3 dedicated to your pictures and the left chunk a scrolling list of your libraries and albums. “Libraries” are your social networking photos, including photos pulled from Facebook, Photobucket, and HP-owned Snapflish, while Albums are the photos you’ve loaded onto the TouchPad yourself. The launch view of Photos has a series of side-scrolling views of your albums so you can give it a quick browse. Tap on a photo to open it, or tap on the album name to open the album into a vertically scrolling grid(ish) view.
There are two new features added to Photos, the first of which comes with the social photo networking integration: you can view and make comments directly from the app, all without even leaving the photo. When looking at a photo, tap on it to bring up a floating toolbar, then tap on the comments button to see the comments on said photo, and make your own. The other is printing, which has its own button on that toolbar. Tap on it and a dialog pops over your photo asking you to select a printer, and then select your number of copies, the paper size (assuming you have a printer that can hold multiple paper sizes at once), and whether you want to print in color. It’s a super-simple arrangement, and it’s only compatible with HP network-enabled printers.
So that's what's changed. Coming up later, what's actually new. There's a lot there too, so hold on for the ride.