Opinion: TouchPad better for work, by design | webOS Nation

Opinion: TouchPad better for work, by design

by Jonathan I Ezor#IM Tue, 09 Aug 2011 3:50 pm EDT

Since I received my TouchPad (courtesy of HP and Resonate Media), I've been putting it through its paces, and considering how it compares to our family's iPad 2 (won in a raffle, so my webOS credentials remain solid!). The iPad 2 is certainly an impressive device: sleek, stable, and featuring a huge array of brand-name applications. As a media consumption device, it's got little competition, and the TouchPad (while boasting stereo, Beats Audio processing, Flash and strong processor power) doesn't yet compete on the app front. On the other hand, for my needs as a professional, the iPad 2 doesn't come close to the TouchPad. The stark difference comes down to two elements: multitasking and management.

Of the two, multitasking is by far the more important. HP has been talking about the "prosumer" as its target for webOS tablets and phones, and I certainly qualify. Beyond my full-time position as a law professor and program director at Touro Law Center on Long Island, I am a consulting counsel on Internet business law issues at a Manhattan law firm, and (of course) a proud contributing writer to PreCentral. In my copious spare time, I have helped coordinate the NYC webOS meetup, volunteer for projects at my synagogue, and, oh yes, am a husband and the father of three kids who all have some special educational needs. Life is many things, but boring isn't one of them.

I first came to PalmOS in 1996 because of my desperate need to organize my work and home information, back when my life wasn't nearly this multidimensional, and switched to webOS as soon as I could for similar reasons. webOS' Synergy alone has been a phenomenal aid, especially in its integration of my multiple Exchange and other e-mail and PIM accounts, but it is far from enough. I'm constantly doing (or at least tracking) more than one thing at once (count the windows typically open on my dual-monitor PC), and I don't have the luxury of closing one aspect of my life to open another. webOS far better than iOS offers me the ability to keep up with my different roles and responsibilities.

Even within a single role, though, webOS is superior. I'm currently writing a digital privacy law coursebook for Lexis/Nexis (watch for it in the fall of 2012!), bringing in sources from cases to regulations to news stories and more. Often, I'm using multiple sources simultaneously. On my PC, and on my TouchPad, all of them can be open and visible at once, with multiple browser windows, documents and more arrayed for easy access. In iOS, it's one app at a time, and one document at a time; task-switching is nowhere near as efficient as moving among cards on webOS. The iPad 2 may have the same screen size and resolution as the TouchPad, but on the iPad 2, the edges of the bezel feel like a brick wall blocking my productivity. The iPad 2 might replace my TV and TiVo, but the TouchPad lets me leave my computer.

The other major advantage of the TouchPad for me and other businesspeople like me (whether solo or in companies) is management. The millions of iPad and iPad 2 devices out there all have one thing in common: they require a current version of Apple's iTunes software, originally written for *music*, to manage them. Having set up and supported a couple of iPads myself, I have seen first-hand what an inefficient and counterintuitive tool iTunes is for IT management. For non-techies, iTunes is as user-hostile as iOS is supposedly user-friendly. Not only could my mother not have set up her iPad herself, but she literally couldn't even connect it to her Mac because the version of OS X it ran (10.2), while fully functional, was too old to run the version of iTunes required for her iPad to synchronize. I had to upgrade her Mac just to backup her iPad. That's ridiculous. Even after Apple releases iOS 5, which promises desktop independence, all those existing iPads will have to be connected to desktops to be upgraded. By contrast, my TouchPad just needed an available WiFi connection to be fully usable, and its cloud-based environment means backing up, restoring and upgrading are equally untethered. I would feel *much* safer bringing the TouchPad rather than the iPad as my sole computing device on a trip, since only the TouchPad could be easily replaced and restored via any Starbucks, Panera or public hotspot if it was lost, stolen or damaged en route.

Another key management benefit of webOS over iOS is control. True, the iPad has numerous apps, but only those approved by Apple and only via iTunes and the Apple App Store. If what I want to do is not on Apple's approved list, I'm essentially out of luck. (Just ask all those users who cannot watch Blu-Ray movies on their Macs, or who cannot watch Flash videos on their iPads; Steve Jobs doesn't want them to, so they cannot.) Sideloading of apps, let alone data, is difficult or impossible to do within Apple's authorized use methods, especially for individuals and small businesses. The simple task of adding a standalone video for viewing on an iPad requires the user to launch iTunes, backup the entire iPad, and sync it again with the video added. Jailbreaking is *not* the answer, either; not only does it violate the terms of use and potentially void the warranty, but businesses do not generally prefer IT platforms whose full usability will be crippled with each OS update, and which require talented hackers to figure out a new unlocking method. Even Apple's connector for its phones and tablets is proprietary, adding cost and reducing choice for accessories.

In sharp contrast, what Palm innovated, and what thankfully HP has preserved, is a platform that puts user choice first. The TouchPad and webOS phones (other than the Veer) use industry-standard microUSB connectors, serve as industry-standard USB drives with a tap on the screen for easy media and data transfer, and are based on the safe, stable, mature and open-source Linux operating system (Apple's iOS runs on a closed-source Unix version). As for data control, while HP offers its own cloud-based profile platform for minimal account and app information, Synergy allows users to select many other platforms to access and synchronize their valuable information. Nor is the device itself locked by HP. Users, or businesses, wishing to add custom applications, or to customize the look and function of the device itself, need only enter a publicly available and authorized code, webOS20090606, to turn on Developer Mode and make it happen. (HP has recognized that enterprises may not want to allow their employees similar access, and have added an optional password to Dev Mode so that IT managers can enable/disable it at will, but that remains the users' rather than HP's decision.) No jailbreaking, no breach of contract, and it's not even a violation of HP's warranty.

(A few words about Android: I haven't myself used Android either on smartphones or tablets, so I cannot speak from experience. I have, though, read and heard much about the major fragmentation issues regarding multiple and potentially incompatible versions across devices and manufacturers. More to the point, though, I and many other non-tinfoil-hat wearing professionals have some concern about Google's information collection abilities and practices, however "non-evil" they may be. Confidentiality is a requirement in legal, medical and financial services, and given that Google's entire business model revolves around parsing user information collected across multiple platforms, it's not a great fit. The fact that the New York State Bar Association had to affirmatively state that using Gmail wasn't a breach of ethics even though Google's computers use the text of the e-mail to show relevant ads suggests the scope of the potential issues.)

While I know that numerous companies are adopting iPads, I also suspect that their IT professionals aren't always so happy about the choice, given the management challenges. I also suspect that many employees with those iPads are finding themselves adjusting their work methods to the device, instead of finding that the device fits how they work. I don't have the time or energy to do so. For myself and for others who have similarly complex professional and personal lives, and for those who support their endeavors, the TouchPad is already a far better option, even given the admitted software gaps, and it will likely continue to be so even given the competition; webOS just works better for work.