2015 marks the 6th anniversary of the Palm Pre and WebOS. While WebOS has unfortunately been phased out of the mobile phone space, many of the concepts in WebOS still live on in other mobile platforms.
I thought I could go over five features from WebOS that are still in use today:
Palm’s multitasking cards paradigm was revolutionary and different. It had a great balance of functionality and design. In comparison, iOS had great design, but lacked functionality. This was way back when iOS didn’t have notification center and had just gotten copy and paste along with video recording. On the other end of the spectrum, Android lacked proper design, but had a lot of great functionality, though leaving developers with a lot to be desired. Some phones didn’t have multi-touch and the all too famous “android lag” was prevalent. In comparison, WebOS’s interface was awesome.
The responsive interface allowed users to quickly switch between apps by combining the app switcher and the home screen. This change was wrought out by Matias Duarte’s brilliant design choice to treat each running app like a card. You could switch through your active cards and then push up to get close the app. In addition, this paradigm allowed users to intuitively understand which apps were actively running in the background. Just go back to your home screen and swipe around. Android and iOS’s app switchers at this point were either nonexistent or unintuitive. It was simply mind-blowing to see this paradigm this usable and powerful at that time.
While WebOS is dead, the cards interface has flourished. Windows Phone, Android, and iOS all adopted a very similar multitasking view. In addition, safari and chrome replaced their tab view to a cards view with the same gestures as well. Frankly, it would be a lie to say that these OS’s were not influenced by WebOS.
Interactive notifications were another feature that WebOS had right off the bat. This feature is pretty self-explanatory. You can interact with your notifications quickly in lieu of going to another app, performing an action, and then switching back to your first app.
This is another feature that has travelled around the world. Android introduced expanding notifications in Jelly Bean, Windows Phone 8 received interactive notifications as a standard feature, and iOS 8 introduced expanded notifications.
Again, these are all features that were standard in an OS 6 years ago that Apple, Microsoft, and Google copied because they are functional and usable.
From the get go, Palm introduced this idea of having unified calendars and messaging built into WebOS. This way, you could have one conversation with someone that continued over multiple services and devices, or you could look at one instance of your calendar and look at all of your events.
There are many services that have this feature built in now. For example, Google Hangouts, iMessage, and WhatsApp are vying for control over your messaging needs and they follow this same concept. Unified inboxes in email apps such as mailbox or the standard mail apps in iOS and Android follow this strategy as well.
This idea of apps serving as a single hub for a concept or service, like messaging or email has been popularized and WebOS might have had a big deal to do with that.
WebOS had one of the first instances of using your tablet to extend your phone. With the HP Touchpad, WebOS users could pair with their phones and then use the tablet as a bluetooth receiver to make or receive calls and SMS. In addition, users could share links from device to device with NFC.
Both Android and iOS have similar features now. With HandOff introduced in iOS 8, iPhone, iPad, and Mac users gained the ability to make calls from their tablet or laptop via bluetooth. In addition, they can share documents or other app data from their iPhone or iPad and then pick up right where they left off on another device. Also, Android users can use NFC to share any App content, such as a web page or a document to any compatible NFC device.
Finally, we have “Just Type”. This is another feature that is making the rounds to the big three. Just Type is a searching feature built into WebOS. It allowed users to quickly search for apps on their phone or the web. In addition, you could perform quick actions, such as type out a memo or a calendar event by just typing on the keyboard (see what I did there).
This feature has been implemented into voice assistants like Cortana, Google Now, and Siri. In addition, Users on iOS can use Spotlight to perform very similar actions, like searching the Web or finding App content to match their queries. Also, users of Android can use the Google Search Widget or type into Google Now to get similar results on the Web or on their phone. Finally, Cortana began performing similar functions on WP 8.1.
In all, WebOS was simply ahead of it’s time. It’s features pushed the boundaries of what a smartphone was and what it could do. Unfortunately, lackluster hardware along with lack of support and proper planning killed Palm along with WebOS. The hardware along with marketing was never good enough for consumers to warrant a purchase.
However, WebOS’s sprit still lives on. iOS, Android, and Windows Phone are all scraping off features from WebOS and fitting them into their OS’s to give users a better experience.
It seems that we are looking backwards to see what features will be in the future of mobile. But who cares right? As long as we can get a better experience out of it, it doesn’t matter. Here’s hoping to a better tomorrow with even better technology!