HP TouchPad webOS 3.0 First Look: Photo Synergy, 4 Keyboards

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When HP gave a sneak peek of webOS 3.0 at a New York City press event, TabletPCReview was there to catch early glimpses of Photo Synergy, four virtual keyboards, and other features of a re-tooled mobile OS set to ship with HP’s new TouchPad tablets starting in July.

HP TouchPadAs much as Android Honeycomb represents an optimization of Android for tablets, webOS 3.0 is a tablet optimization of an OS first devised by Palm for the original Pre smartphone.

“It’s amazing that HP only completed its Palm acquisition about a year ago,” contended Jon Oakes, HP’s director of product marketing for TouchPad, while delivering a demo of HP’s tablet running webOS 3.0 at Pepcom’s Digital Experience press event on Wednesday.

During the demo, Oakes showed how HP has kept the multitasking-capable webOS’s card-based user interface (UI), while exploiting the TouchPad’s bigger 9.7-inch screen to offer larger views. Unlike competing mobile OS such as Android and Apple’s iOS, webOS doesn’t provide a home screen. Instead, you work with cards, or application thumbnails, which can be easily selected and then discarded. You can also display individual screens from apps as individual cards (that are expandable), letting you group together screens needed for performing a specific task. RIM’s BlackBerry Tablet OS, created much later for RIM’s smaller 7-inch tablet, also uses a similar card view.

Email Synergy and Photo Synergy
HP TouchPadMeanwhile, webOS 3.0 also borrows from the Synergy capabilities of its smartphone-based webOS predecessors with tablet-based E-Mail Synergy and Photo Synergy capabilities. Oakes told me that both of these features use technologies that include synchronization through HP’s cloud servers and an underlying software framework supporting multiple APIs (application programming interfaces) to outside apps.

In Photo Synergy, you can access photos from multiple Web sites such as Facebook and Snapfish, for example, in a single place. Similarly, through E-Mail Synergy, you can work with messages from multiple email accounts — for example, Gmail, Yahoo, and Microsoft Outlook (through Exchange ActiveSync) in a centralized space.

Personally, I’m sure I’d find E-Mail Synergy useful just about every day of the week (like many people, I suppose, I tend to spend a lot of time jumping in and out of my three or four favorite mailboxes). The HP TouchPad’s roomy screen clearly offers plenty of real estate for viewing photos and emails from all of your various accounts and Web sites.

Four Soft Keyboards
Meanwhile, webOS 3.0’s four virtual keyboards are in four different sizes. You might choose the “extra large” keypad if you’re typing in a lengthy email, or the “extra small” if you want to use most of the screen for looking at photos or videos. 

HP TouchPadThe soft keypads in webOS 3.0 also depart from tradition by offering a number row on top. “This makes it easier to access URLs containing numbers, for example,” illustrated the TouchPad product marketing manager.

The HP exec also showed how webOS will display a status light when the HP TouchPad is connected to its charging dock.

Following the Palm buyout, HP first adopted webOS for use in its printers. Then, in February of this year, HP announced that its own first phones the HP Pre3 and the tiny HP Veer – would run a revamped mobile OS called webOS 2.2, while the TouchPad would be outfitted with the tablet-oriented webOS 3.0.

HP’s new OS for the tablet also uses the same gestures, such as webOS-specific swipes, as previous editions of the OS. This will surely come as welcome news to users of Palm Pre phones, but it will likely pose a bit of a learning curve to those unfamiliar with WebOS gestures.

HP TouchPadEarlier on, new Pre owners were so mystified about touchscreen operations that Palm created a users guide specifically for gestures.

Actually, the swipe gestures used for navigating the RIM PlayBook’s screen also seem to echo those developed previously for webOS.

Kind of surprisingly, Oakes did not demo Pivot, a new monthly digital publication for TouchPad announced the same week. As touted in HP’s press materials, Pivot will offer content highlighting the TouchPad’s capabilities and developer community while educating users about an app store for webOS.

Other features set for inclusion in the tablet-optimized webOS 3.0 include Adobe Flash, hardware acceleration for faster image rendering, and touch-to-share, a capability for sharing URLs between the TouchPad and other webOS devices.

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