I've been playing with HP's new TouchPad for a week, but it only took a few minutes to notice the tablet's similarities to the iPad. I'm not just talking about the TouchPad's WebOS--all players in the tablet space have undoubtedly taken cues from Apple's software (see: apps, gestures, etc.). But even HP's hardware design is iPad-like, from the placement of the (single) home button to the webcam to the auto-lock key to the volume seesaw switch.
This is not a knock at HP. Comparisons to Apple are always positive, and, in my opinion, WebOS runs much smoother than Android -- and is far more beautiful. And in some ways the TouchPad bests iPad. Given how much of an inspiration Apple has been to tablet makers in general, it's high time competitors--all the supposed "iPad killers"--return the favor. Here, we present the top five features of HP's TouchPad that we'd like to see Apple steal.
Multitasking is easily one of the best features of WebOS. The TouchPad's homescreen isn't a library of app icons, like the iPads. Rather, WebOS leaves room for a desktop that it fills with all your running programs, which are represented by "cards" or "stacks of cards." It's similar to Alt-Tabbing in Windows 7--a slick and breezy way of swiping through your open apps. Apps can be grouped into "stacks of cards," allowing for simple drag-and-drop organization and quick navigation--think having multiple tabs open at once.
Compare that to Apple's multitasking functionality. On the iPad, you must double click the home button in order to see what's running--and what you'll find are rows and rows of app icons. It's always a shock to see how many apps are running: Twitter, Safari, Google Maps, the camera, settings, mail, contacts, weather, and so on. To jump between programs is a blind leap--who knows how many tabs you have open in Safari? On the TouchPad, the "cards" provide extremely convenient and helpful preview panes.
Swipe To Quit
How do you close an app on the iPad? If you hit the home button twice, bring up the multitask screen, and hold down on an app long enough, only then will a "-" appear in the corner allowing you to exit your open apps. The app icons will begin shimmying in place--all of them with an "-" in the corner. To stop the icons's seductive dance, you must hit the home button yet again. Sort of excessive, no?
On the TouchPad, it is far simpler to quit a program--and kind of fun too. This is a feature carried over from Palm, of course, but we think it works great on the tablet's big screen. The gesture is very intuitive: just swipe up to quit. When the apps appear as "cards" on your desktop, just swipe them up, and they'll float off screen, out of mind and sight. For "card stacks," the gesture is especially helpful--closing a single tab within your browser takes only a flick of the finger.
We realize iOS 5 will change notifications on the iPad; but one feature of WebOS that Apple should incorporate is HP's email notifications. When you receive a new email, an icon will appear in the top status bar. Just click the icon, and a drop-down menu will appear. Without disrupting your homescreen experience, you can swipe through each new email in your inbox with ease, all from the status bar--no need to open the program. It's a way to triage your inbox and through the clutter--a feature I've found supremely helpful over the past week.
Touch To Share
Most of you likely saw HP demonstrate this feature months ago--but to try it yourself is still a magical experience. Called Touch To Share, the feature allows you to instantly share content from your TouchPad with your Palm Pre smartphone. Have restaurant's website open in your browser? A map open with directions to the eatery? Just tap the smartphone to the TouchPad, and--with a gorgeous ripple effect--the content will open on the smartphone.
Of course, the sharing only works between the TouchPad and Pre smartphones--chances are low that many consumers would own both devices. But imagine if Apple brought this functionality to the iPad and iPhone?
Don't we all hate plugging in USB cords to power up our devices? It's the pits, man. To avoid the headache, some have developed wireless charging solutions, which always require accessories and an attachment for the tablet itself.
Not on the TouchPad. HP has built inductive charging right into the TouchPad itself. You'll still need an accessory, called the HP Touchstone, to allow it to charge, but the outcome is awesome: It's very satisfying to just plop the tablet down, and not have to worry about cords or syncing.
Once on the charging bay, the TouchPad launches into Exhibition Mode, a screensaver-like power down that can run simple apps like, say, a clock or calendar. The TouchPad also remembers the last used Exhibition Mode for each charging dock. So, say you have charging stations in your kitchen, living room, and bedroom. When you charge the tablet in the kitchen, for example, HP imagines the Epicurious app would appear, offering recipes; or in the living room, you might have a slideshow of family photographs; or in the bedroom, a kama sutra, er, alarm clock.
So there you have it, Apple. Start copying.
The HP TouchPad comes in two versions: 16GB, for $499, and 32GB, for $599. Both feature a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor, a 9.7" LED screen, a front-facing 1.3MP camera, and are currently Wi-Fi enabled, with 3G to come in the very near future. The TouchPad goes on sale July 1. The HP Touchstone wireless charger is sold separately for $79.