HP has been giving out free Pre 2s to developers in an effort to attract more of them to webOS. I signed up for one in mid-February and it finally arrived in early May. I used the Pre 2 as my main phone for a little over a week, relegating my iPhone 4 to audio-playing and gaming duties. These are some of my thoughts from the experience.
After spending just a week with webOS, I am astounded at how much more fluid it is than iOS. Not just with regard to notifications, where webOS’s have been heavily praised and iOS’s heavily derided, but also when it comes to the ease of navigating the OS, switching apps and performing tasks quickly.
All webOS devices have a gesture area below the screen. In order to enter app switching mode, you swipe up from the gesture area onto the screen. Contrast this with iOS’s home button double-tap, which is physically more difficult to do and has worse results if done too slowly. In webOS, a slow swipe up brings up the dock, which like iOS, has four user-customizable apps (in addition to a launcher icon). In iOS, a slow double-tap registered as two single taps will bring the user back the home screen and take them to the first home screen or Spotlight.
The navigation stack paradigm commonly seen in iOS apps is also present in webOS. The only difference being that there’s no need for a visible back button. A right-to-left swipe in the gesture area serves the same functionality. Again, the swipe is much easier than having to awkwardly reach for the top-left corner of the screen.
When iOS 4.3 betas shipped, the big news came that Apple had enabled support for multitasking gestures (in order to solicit feedback from developers). A four- or five-finger swipe up showed the multi-tasking bar, left and right swipes switched between apps, and pinch returned the user to home screen. While fun for a few days, I quickly disabled the gestures because they interfered with GarageBand. If I was playing with the on-screen piano, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have at least four fingers on the screen at once, leading me to triggering a gesture erroneously, getting myself kicked out of GarageBand and ruining many a masterpiece.
The multi-tasking gestures were the first time Apple violated the suspension of disbelief that allows us to think that the iPad is not a tablet that runs apps, but that each time an app is launched transforms the iPad into a single-purpose device.
Still, as iOS grows, the Home Button will become increasingly limiting. Prior to the introduction of multitasking in iOS 4, a Home Button double click could be configured to open phone favorites, go to Spotlight, or launch the iPod app or the camera. Without a dedicated gesture area, Apple was forced to restrict the double-click to just showing the multitasking bar and making it that much harder to quickly access two functions that often require quick access.
After growing accustomed to the gesture area on the Pre 2, going back to the iPhone’s overloaded Home Button feels like a step backwards. A dedicated gesture area would go a long way to giving iOS the additional physical resources it needs in order to improve the fluidity of the OS and I really hope we see it in the next generation of iOS devices.