HP TouchPad Running WebOS
HP is a big company that tries lots of things and is really successful in a few, like sales of printers and ink cartridges and computers. One of its failures was an attempt to counter the Android/iOS duopoly with its 2011 purchase of what was left of the company who made PalmOS. HP renamed it WebOS, launched a tablet called the TouchPad (see figure at left, sourced from TechFever), and then shut down the entire project after just six months of poor sales and poor reviews. I knew there was trouble when an HP vp was scheduled to speak about WebOS at a Linux conference I was attending, but then the topic was changed last-minute to something else.
WebOS was sold to LG, who now uses it in some of their smartTVs. There is, of course, the open source version of WebOS at https://www.openwebosproject.org, sponsored by LG; the last post, however, on the user forum was made more than a year ago.
A sad story for those of us who survived the 1990s with our beloved Palm Pilots -- beloved because those diminutive devices did things that today's hyper-marketed Android and iOS devices still can't.
When HP sold off the remaining inventory of TouchPads for $99, I ordered one through a local big box store, but the order was never confirmed. Earlier this year, I searched eBay and found one that was never unopened. When it arrived at my home, I was so in awe of the last ever "PalmOS" portable device that I left the box unopened for months.
I finally opened it for my birthday. The packaging is very nicely done by HP, the sort of thing they normally reserve for their high-end laptops. The tablet is standard by today's design norms: 10" screen, power and volume buttons, microUSB, and a physical home button.
It is unusual in a few areas. The USB charger is round, like a cylinder, and the USB cable featured a large chrome dot to indicate how it should be plugged into the tablet. The table is heavy, the heaviest I've ever held.
When it came to start the TouchPad, it asked me for the language I prefer and then attempted to contact HP's severs to set up the account and complete the startup. And this is where I say, "The tablet is frozen in time." HP no longer operates the servers, and from the name of the operating system ("WebOS") this was to be a cloud-connected device. HP named the first release of Web0s "v3.0", perhaps as a tip of the hat to PalmOS.
Fortunately, the wizkids on the intertubes developed a workaround that involves a fair amount of work to fool the device into starting without contacting HP's servers. See https://forums.webosnation.com/hp-touchpad/317164-activation-bypass-touchpad.html. It worked, and I can now examine the contents of the abandoned device.
WebOS introduced to the UX world the concept of cards, which has since been adopted by Google in its Web pages and in Android. Press the Home button to see a carousel of cards showing the current state of every running app. (See figure below, sourced from Daily Tech.) Then flick through them to get to the app you want. Press the Home button a second time to access the launcher, which lists all the apps available on the tablet. Apps are written in Enyo, now an HMTL5 framework for all devices (see https://enyojs.com).
In some ways, the tablet is modern, despite being five years old. It has bluetooth and Wifi, it can connect to services like Dropbox and Exchange. Other specs are definitely 2011-ish:
- 1024×768 resolution
- 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
- dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
- 32GB operating RAM, 29GB available
But otherwise it frozen: no software can be updated, nor can the OS be updated by HP. The online backup system is, naturally, non-functional. Well, there is an exception. Clever users have been able to install Android, and so keep the deice functional. I won't, as I want a record of this unique device; it is w-a-y too old and heavy to replace the lithe Android tablets I use today.
In the end, I was disappointed by the TouchPad. It is almost too heavy to hold, its reliance on HP servers an Achilles Heel (even if WebOS had broken through to success), and I actually did not care for the WebOS interface. (A better one is Blackberry's OS interface.)