Tag Archives: webOS

BlackBerry 10: Moving on from PlayBook

Roger Cheng at CNET:

You can’t accuse RIM of rushing out BlackBerry 10. If anything, the operating system is way overdue. But the company has clearly spent the time to work out the kinks, and the early experience with the software has been pleasantly surprising.

RIM isn’t aping a trend or trying something completely new with BlackBerry 10, it’s actually focusing on its core smartphone product.

Absolutely, BlackBerry 10 is no PlayBook because the former is software and the latter is a device and that pretty much ends any debate from the literal perspective. But points taken: the PlayBook was rushed (although it was also late) while BlackBerry 10 has not been (we hope). Further, while the PlayBook was a one-off in an incremental market for RIM, BlackBerry 10 is a foundational technology for the company that it expects will last the next decade the way OS X has (and iOS is on track to).

An even greater issue for the PlayBook than those that Roger cites, however, including carrier acceptance, was developer acceptance (the two are of course related).  As a technology underpinning, BlackBerry 10 is, in fact, an evolution of the PlayBook OS (somewhat like OS X was an evolution of the Darwin project). However, BlackBerry 10 will, as Roger notes, enjoy the advantage of being on RIM’s higher-volume handsets rather than breaking into a new category.

With the Android market coalescing around Samsung with some HTC and Windows Phone doing the same with Nokia and HTC, certainly there will be at least one domestic carrier willing to give the new devices a try. Still, no matter how successful RIM’s developer evangelism is, there are bound to be many gaps at launch as there was for Windows Phone.The nightmare scenario is not that BlackBerry 10 will be the PlayBook, but that it will be webOS.

A Plan B Nokia could live with

I believe Nokia when it says that the company has no Plan B, or that Plan B is to make Plan A a success – at least for now. Perhaps it would prefer not to consider such an alternative until it saw that Windows Phone was failing to make inroads after an extended period of time. Of course, the big question is, how long would that period be?

The line from Nokia is that the ecosystem of Windows Phone must succeed for Nokia to succeed. But I’m not sure it’s so black and white. Apple, and for years before it, RIM, succeeded with no other licensees of its operating system. There was that brief window where PalmOne was the only successful licensee of Palm OS, owned by PalmSource. And, really, which major handset provider besides Nokia was wildly successful with Symbian?

Indeed, while few doubt that Nokia will be the most successful Windows Phone licensee, a successful ecosystem does not necessarily make for a successful licensee. Some would argue that, if Windows Phone proves a failure beyond Nokia, than Microsoft should just purchase Nokia. But Stephen Elop, in recounting the story of how Nokia came to license Windows Phone, says that that was never on the table. Indeed, Nokia would be about as comfortable inside Microsoft as Motorola Mobility still looks inside Google. Not needing the IP, or being able to leverage it without purchase, Microsoft would be loath to buy Nokia no matter how high its share of Windows Phone became.

PlayBook marks an auspicious platform birth

Most of the reviews of the BlackBerry PlayBook remind me a lot of the first reviews of Motorola Xoom. “It’s no iPad.” Yes, we know, and so do RIM and Motorola and Google. You don’t need to turn on either device to know there would be a significant app and feature gap deficiency versus Apple’s pioneering slate that has since had a year to mature. Yes, the PlayBook lacks e-mail and calendaring for the moment. Oh, by the way, the Xoom and PlayBook both multitask out of the box. Did the first iPad? No, buyers had to wait half a year for that feature.

But the PlayBook is far more significant for RIM than the Xoom was for Google. Honeycomb is a major new release of Android, no doubt. But while the user experience of Android had room to improve (and still does), it didn’t have nearly as far to go to become a satisfying user experience as the BlackBerry OS does. That’s more on the scale of the leap that Microsoft took from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.

And, based on that burden, it seems that RIM has nailed the basics, taking some of the UI concepts in BlackBerry 6 and making refining them while adding the visual thumbnails from webOS. The user experience of the BlackBerry Tablet OS (OK, still some refining left to do on the naming) is as slick, simple, responsive and engaging as anything on the market. Bezel gestures strike me as far more intuitive than webOS’s gesture bar. And despite RIM’s decision to go with the BlackBerry Bridge option before developing native PIM apps, the OS itself is more feature-complete than, say, the first version of Windows Phone 7.

I’m not sure how well it will all translate to handsets, but it is exactly what the BlackBerry needs to stem the tide of its user exodus. If RIM can execute on that fusion, it is back in the game.

RIM’s also done a solid job with the PlayBook hardware. I prefer the vertical orientation of the iPad and Galaxy Tab, and (of course) Nook. The PlayBook, though – and most of the bigger Android tablets — seem to be going for a horizontal orientation by default. Of course, this is more of a curiosity than anything else. Yes, the on button is a little hard to press, but even with the paucity of apps, RIM has the best 7” tablet on the market right now.

LifeTouch Note has some noteworthy touches

Before netbooks came on the scene, it was very rare to see an ultraportable laptop make its way to the States from Japan, and those that did could easily cost more than $1,500. There are still a good number of these Japanese-exclusive designs that can be perused and purchased at Dynamism, but the disparity isn’t nearly what it once was. The U.S. even gets to partake in such unusual designs as Sony’s Vaio P, an sleek but pricey reinvention of the traackpadless, low-profile clamshell Sony pursued with the originally Transmeta-based PictureBook.

However, much of the Vaio P’s form factor appeal has been captured by NEC’s LifeTouch Note, which uses a Tegra 2 and Android on a 7” display (slightly smaller than the Vaio P’s). For now, it’s being made available only across the Pacific in NEC’s home market. However, there are a few reasons I’d like to see it come stateside sporting Android or perhaps webOS under the HP brand.

  • It’s even smaller and weighs less than the average netbook
  • Unlike tablets, it could have a usable touch-typable keyboard
  • It boasts nine hours of battery life, which represents great longevity for something so thin.
  • Its low profile is less obtrusive when taking notes in meetings, and is a dream on an airline tray in a cramped coach seat
  • The form factor is differentiated from those of Windows netbooks.
  • It’s affordable as a second PC, residing in the high-end netbook/midrange tablet price range at $500
  • At least for HP, it would be a nice update to the market that was once served by the Jornada line of Windows CE clamshells..

I particularly like the BlackBerry-style finger trackpad below the keyboard, but it might not be necessary depending on the operating system. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any buttons that flank it, although that could be added.

Alas, the LifeTouch Note has a resistive touchscreen; I’d see stylus input – and perhaps even touch itself– as less important for this form factor. Still, with the right apps, it could be a dream machine for light productivity on the go, filling a niche between tablet and notebook.

The battle of the buttons

The iPhone distinguished itself with a single home button for returning from an app to the launch screen. While its functionality may have been strained a bit as the platform has progressed. e.g., having to tap twice to bring up the app switcher, its single UI depression concession made a statement about minimalist simplicity that few platforms (webOS may be one example) have answered.

In contrast, Android launched with four major UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) and Windows Phone launched with three (Windows/Start, Back, and Search). Exactly how many – if any – buttons is optimal can be debated by user interface experts or considered personal preference. As is the case with much of what I consider Android variation, the media has jumped upon the tendency for different vendors to implement the Android button order in a different way, even in different handsets from the same manufacturer.

I don’t see that as such a major issue, but the Search button, in particular, always struck me as gratuitous. Yes, we know Google is a search company, but that doesn’t mean I need a search button omnipresent on my device. And I was somewhat disappointed that Microsoft followed suit (since, of course, Bing is really important, too).

Now Google, if not having so much seen the error of its ways, will give licensees the option to forego any and all buttons in Honeycomb tablets and presumably Ice Cream handsets. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Matias Duarte, a notion that buttons are trickier to place on a tablet versus a generally vertically oriented handset, or simple feedback from partners.

The drawback is that now, in addition to potentially having different button layouts, Android devices may now have different combinations of buttons and gestures for the same task. Regardless, these devices now have the potential to look cleaner and more streamlined because of the change. Perhaps that’s one of the liberties that Nokia will feel free to take as it balances its unique customization privileges against compromising the consistency in the Windows Phone ecosystem.

Good things come in Pres

Will the third time be a charm for the portrait slider form factor that was the vehicle for webOS’s debut? The competition has gotten a lot tougher and the app gap remains webOS’s biggest challenge. Still, I think there’s cause for optimism.

As HP was not shy about pointing out at its Think Beyond event last week, the trend in the market has been toward jumbo screen sizes; CES was rife with announcements of 4.3” and 4.5” handsets. The original Pre and Pre 2, however, simply had too limiting a canvas. The bump to 3.6” puts HP in iPhone range. While I’ve said on a few occasions that I think 4” is perhaps the ideal balance between reachability and real estate, 3.5” is pretty usable and HP has put the extra width to good use by adding a larger keyboard..

But even screen size wasn’t as horrible an impediment with the first Pre as the experience-crushing lag. HP has addressed that in two ways, by bumping up the maximum processor clock speed to a roaring 1.4 GHz and by many optimizations in webOS 2, which I awarded the Switchie for most improved smartphone OS. I’m hoping those two improvements combine to make the fluidity of using a webOS handset consistent with the fluidity of the user interface’s design.while providing competitive battery life.

First Impression: Palm Pre shows polish and promise

Prior to the first reviews hitting the Web, there had already been some backlash against Palm and the Pre with Mike Elgan presuming that the Pre wouldn’t be able to top the iPhone with consumers and David Coursey offering five reasons the Palm Pre would not prevail. (While I share some of David’s concerns about the long-term high competitive stakes, though, I don’t think it would be realistic for any true “startup” to land a coveted hero smartphone slot at a major US carrier).

Palm was also somewhat notorious throughout the Pre’s development cycle about not letting people get much hands-on time with the device, leading some to suspect that it had something to hide.

Well, if it did, it has sure fixed it by now. The Palm Pre is a compelling handset, and easily the strongest competitor to the iPhone to date. It is good enough to attract consumers to Sprint based on its merits, but may not be as successful in that as the iPhone has been for AT&T due to Palm’s lack of brand cachet relative to Apple and the relatively limited exclusivity window that was revealed by Verizon Wireless recently.

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Fixing Foleo

image Technologizer notes that the Foleo may be reincarnated running webOS, Palm’s new operating system. Like Harry McCracken, I was sympathetic to the idea of Foleo when it was announced and before the netbook craze hit full-force. However, the requirement to have a cell phone tethered to what was otherwise a functional client resulted in a split personality. In contrast, Celio Corp.’s REDFLY takes a better approach by turning the “laptop” into a thin client, and completely relying on the snartphone’s operating system and connectivity, but the applications are not there yet for it to be a consumer product.)

A webOS-powered Foleo could have many of the characteristics that I ascribed to a potential iPhone OS-based clamshell without some of the iPhone’s limitations. Palm, of course, does not have the issue with smaller keyboards that Apple seems to, and webOS merrily supports multitasking in a way that is more visually akin to a PC user interface.. webOS is even slated to get support for desktop Flash nest year. And Palm has no fear about cannibalizing more expensive notebook PC sales (although it must be cognizant of netbook pricing, an issue that blindsided the initial Foleo).

Still, if the Foleo returns, it probably won’t be for a while. There is just too much opportunity for Palm in the smartphone space and the competition is thick. But it’s certainly an opportunity once the company has covered its international bases with webOS smartphones. Until then, feel free to go back to obsessing over Android-based netbooks.