Using webOS today



Image source: webOSnation

Two years and one week ago, Leo Apotheker, then-CEO of HP, changed the face of mobile technology. To some, it was reconstructive plastic surgery. To other, it was the popping of a pimple. But regardless of your perception, a face was changed.

To commemorate the occasion, Managing Editor Anton D. Nagy challenged me to brush off my Pre 3 after about a year of retirement, and fire that puppy up again. My task for the week was to use my Pre 3 and webOS as my daily driver – as much as possible. Basically if I had a mobile technology task to accomplish, I was to reach for the Pre 3 first.

I kinda kept to the assignment. Truth be told, the Lumia 920 as my daily driver has been pretty ingrained into my psyche, so throughout the week I would grab the phone, type out a tweet, and then give myself a good forehead slap. But, over all, we wanted to give our readers a sense of what using webOS on the daily is like, two years after that fateful earnings call. To that end, Andre, the Pre 3 was by my side all week.

Good news and bad news

First, let me start off by saying, I had mixed feelings about this assignment. Going back to a Pre 3 is rather like going back to your original car. Sure it got about 6 miles to the gallon. But it was a sweet ride, and  the memories forged and the front seat (and if you played your cards right, the back seat) will warm your heart until the day you leave this earth, either by death or in Michael Fisher’s case, transporter.

But let’s face it. It’s a 1984 Crown Victoria station wagon. It went from 0-60 in 4.5 hours. It had a tape deck. Not exactly a top of the line model. Not even close. But it was yours and you loved it.

sim-cardsPick a card, any card…

One big practical concern got in the way of my assignment. The Pre 3 takes a full-sized SIM card. I don’t have one of those. Sure I could go to the AT&T store and get one, use it for a week, and then go back and get a micro SIM or cut it down to size. I could also give myself a tattoo with a needle and a broken pen and take it off with a belt sander next week. Both would be about equally painful.  So no, the Pre3 was a wi-fi only device for the week. Sorry purists.

Things I miss

First of all, as far as being a phone goes, the Pre 3 and webOS handle those tasks well. It has a good solid grasp on messaging too. But, then again, so do dumb phones. Not much to see here. But it’s a phone, so we talk about that first. Give it a solid A-/B+.

But what webOS is arguably most famous for is multitasking. The multitasking is mind-numbingly simple. Swipe up, swipe over. Since then, every OS has copied it to some extent, and they should. It’s fabulous.

The second thing webOS became well known for were notifications. Unobtrusive and information, webOS notifications today feel dated, but still great, right Windows Phone users? Oh no he didn’t. The notification tray keeps everything nice and organized and neat. They’re expandable, some are actionable (more of that later) and most importantly, they’re out of the way until you need them.

Little or Big, webOS notifications were 2009

Little or Big, webOS notifications were epic…in 2009

Music/podcast listening/playing is also rock solid – as long as it’s stored locally. Streaming….not so much. WebOS was the first mobile platform to have actionable notifications. The music player app allows to you pause, play, skip forward, or skip backward right from the notification/lock screen. It’s been that way since webOS 1.4.5 at least, and maybe even sooner (I honestly don’t recall). So Android and iOS users, when you swipe down your notification tray and press play, thank webOS.

It’s at this time that I have to toss in a shout out to Homebrew developer Jamie Hatfield, of Dr. Podder fame. On three different platforms, I have yet to find a comparable podcast experience. It’s really not even close. Well done, sir.

Multi inbox view, backswipe, single inbox view. God, I miss this.

Multi inbox view, backswipe, single inbox view. God, I miss this.

The email experience on webOS is also second to none. Some will argue that webOS doesn’t take full advantage of Gmail. That is a compromise I was always willing to make. The ability to quickly flip in between email accounts and create mail in new cards, leaving the message list open elsewhere. It’s all absolutely the best, hands down.

I have missed all of these features dearly on every platform since – Multitasking, notifications, music playing, and email.

But it’s after that, that the compromises start to arrive.

Things I don’t miss

phnx_2013-25-08_222752Once upon a time, webOS was the god of twitter. Everyone had their own twitter client. My dog developed her own twitter client. You could have any feature, any UI, any color, and texture you wanted. There was a twitter client in every size, shape and color your could dream of. Now, there really are only a couple, most notably @_minego’s Project Maccaw (and it’s older brother Phnx). These full-bodied twitter apps survived the great twitter purge of 2013 and have stayed up to date thanks to developer Micah Gorrell’s work. He even plans on bringing an Enyo version of Maccaw some day.

webOS’s Facebook app still works, and it works just as well as it did when it first came out. Which is to say it’s functional, barely. Don’t plan on viewing many full sized photos, and if you’re a member of a group, you’ll have to check those wall updates at the door, unless you just want to view them in a browser. But if that’s the case, you may as well just view facebook in the browser. I remember feeling pretty geeked when I found out the Lumia 800’s Facebook app supported groups. My world had changed forever.

maps_2013-25-08_223120Where am I?

Navigation is something many of us do with our phones. Whether we’re traveling across the country, or just looking for a local McDonalds to feed the kids while you’re running errands, navigation is key on your smartphone. Time was, Google maps were the default maps on webOS devices. Then they switched to Bing. My feelings on Bing and Bing maps have been pretty well documented, so I won’t harp on it any more here. Suffice it to say if you’re using webOS’s default mapping software, phone first.  But there is hope. Homebrew developers have brought forth two soultions that surprisingly still work in BFGmaps and Google maps. Both of which offer varying features of Google maps, but neither with a particularly satisfying experience. Lack of data connection didn’t help either, but we didn’t deduct points for that.

Turn by turn directions are reasonably accurate. I didn’t get a chance to test that feature in depth due to the lack of SIM. Plus, back when I was using the Pre3 full time, my geocaching self always carried a “real” GPSr anyway, so truth be told, I hardly used it.


Unfortunately, the app catalog selections are still bare. As in, Old Mother Hubbard bare. There is no Netflix, no Hulu, no Shazam. The biggest app news released in the later years of webOS – White Pages. Seriously. There are few games, few productivity apps. Let’s face it, there are few apps. Over the last couple of years, many popular apps have ceased support. It’s very, very sad.

But what about the TouchPad?

The situation for tablets is similar in many respects. To be honest, there’s not much to this story because I haven’t stopped toting my TouchPad around since I got it during the fire sale. So it’s wasn’t really re-hashing an old experience. It was just more of the same. The multitasking is awesome, the email is phenomenal, the apps are ok, but sad, and the web browser works wherever the apps don’t – ahem Facebook. The biggest additions to the TouchPad that the Pre3 doesn’t handle (big caveat here for apptucketbox) are Zhephree’s Incredible! and Amazon kindle. But overall, it’s more usable than the phones, and perfectly capable for my purposes. It is however below average by today’s standards.

Using webOS today

That being said, I loved toting Andre around – for a week. It was nice to step back and relive webOS from its heyday. It was nice, in the same way it’s nice to put on your best 80’s spandex and strut around your bedroom for 15 minutes.

Believe it or not, I still know several people who still use webOS on the daily. It’s still a perfectly usable mobile OS. However, after this week I can appreciate their dedication. I have since moved on. Windows Phone and Android are my one and two platforms of choice these days. At the time, I didn’t really want to move on, but today I’m happy I did. I’ll always remember that first love though. She holds a special place in my heart, even if my current loves get a little jealous from time to time.

Happy anniversary, baby.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!