Mobile

HP’s WebOS TouchPad reveals iPad’s multitasking weaknesses

Unless Apple significantly revamps iOS for the iPad, it’s going to be blown away by HP’s upcoming WebOS TouchPad tablet when it comes to multitasking.

HP unveiled the TouchPad today at a media event in San Francisco, along with the miniscule Veer phone, and its new flagship smartphone, the Pre 3. These are HP’s first new products following its purchase of Palm last year for $1.2 billion — but if today’s announcements are any indication, HP definitely won’t let Palm’s innovative WebOS platform stagnate.

HP and Palm have finally realized WebOS’s full potential with the TouchPad — a 10-inch tablet that will give the iPad, Android tablets, and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook some much-needed competition. WebOS wowed the technology world when it was unveiled in January 2009, specifically because it focused heavily on multitasking. At the time, Apple’s iOS lacked any sort of multitasking capability — it didn’t appear on the iPhone until the release of iOS 4.0 last summer, and it took several more months for it to land on the iPad.

Like Palm’s WebOS phones, the TouchPad uses a card-based system to quickly move between applications. All of the apps are multitasking enabled, so you can always count on being able to continue reading a web page, or composing an email, from where you left off. A bar at the top of the screen keeps notifications contained so they doesn’t interrupt your productivity.

In comparison, the iPad forces you to swipe through a small tray of icons on the bottom of the screen, and not every app can take advantage of multitasking. And forget about managing notifications on the iPad — every single notification on iOS demands your attention by appearing on top of whatever application you’re running. I’ve been living with an iPad for a few months now, but I use it less and less these days specifically because it’s so difficult to manage multiple tasks at once.

The next time a notification interrupts a life or death game of Angry Birds, I may just have to catapult my iPad out the window.

The TouchPad is also full of many thoughtful features that makes it easier to use than the iPad. You can select multiple email messages to delete at a time with gestures, or make your virtual keyboard larger or smaller on the fly. It’s also capable of playing back Flash content on web pages, which Apple has staunchly refused to support on iOS. The WebOS messaging app also integrates multiple services, so you won’t need to jump into a separate app to text or instant message as you would on the iPad. Similarly, the TouchPad’s photo app integrates web photo services like Flickr and Facebook.

HP also demonstrated the ability to perform video calls between the Pre 3 and the TouchPad, something we expect to be possible between the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. You can also touch your Pre 3 to the TouchPad to share information — for example, a web page that you already have open on the TouchPad — and easily print from the TouchPad to HP wireless printers.

We expect some major software updates from Apple with the next version of iOS, but it’s unclear if multitasking on the iPad and iPhone will be improved. Apple managed to snag WebOS notification guru Rich Dellinger last year, so we expect an improved notification system to hit iOS some time soon. Until then, the iPad remains an incredibly frustrating device for me to use if I want to juggle multiple apps.

HP is definitely breaking new ground by bringing WebOS to a tablet. We’re expecting Android 3.0 to bring some innovative capabilities to tablets as well, but even that platform doesn’t seem as polished as WebOS yet when it comes to multitasking.


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