Monday, October 10, 2011

HP TouchPad Thoughts

What follows are my growing notes on the TouchPad.  It’s not really just about the touchpad but to help me understand why iPad is continuing to kick butt in the tablet market.  Some say that there is no tablet market, there’s an iPad market.  The vote is still being counted on that one but early polls show iPad with an unbeatable lead for the next few years.  This isn’t anything new but in review is in part my quest to understand the “why”.   Part of it may indeed be the emotional connection that Apple somehow makes with a very large segment of users.  The Gardian author of “Why do some people really hate Apple” and Donald Norman’s book “Emotional Design” get in touch with this idea.  Although not the key topic of this article I give my thoughts on the Gardian article at the end.  

This isn’t super in-depth review but you might still find some entertainment within.  I’m publishing this because a lot of people are asking me about it and updating as I learn, so it is a work in progress.  

I purchased a touchpad for my family since a) the price was right $99, and b) I could give my wife a Kindle reader at a lower cost than a kindle that does a hell of a lot more and the kids a game station so I could continue to hold onto my iPad.  The TouchPad also serves as a platform for me to experiment, possibly loading Android OS in the future and other geekish activities.

I just opened the TouchPad box and started writing this using the TouchPad on GoogleDocs (just because I can).  Don’t depend on me as a resource for knowledge on the TouchPad, I’m a complete newbie.  I leveraged this forum link as a starting point to quickly come up to speed and hack for speed.  (Thanks to Erik Bartlow at HP).

Size and First Use

Size wise it’s about the size of a iPad 1 with the look of an iPad 2 (the curved back design).
I kept feeling like I was going to drop it so I went shopping for a case so I can hold onto it.  This was a big mistake since the only cases in stores are mainly for the Ipad 2 right now.  If the TouchPad does fit, it’s very tight.  I ordered a case from Amazon that’s made for the TouchPad by Poetic.  It’s nice.  My next case for the iPad will be from these guys.  The first-time setup & install was idiot proof and clean.  

I purchased the HP matching keyboard and it was easy to setup.  I have the HP keyboard unit that is made for the TouchPad that feels like and about the same size as my Apple bluetooth keyboard that I use on my iPad 2.  The only thing that I don’t like is that the keyboard seams to go to sleep after a very short while forcing you to touch a key to wake it up.  It works great (see notes about using it with Google Docs below.  It feels nice, metal, black.


I’ve never used WebOS and I liked it.  The card view UI for switching between tasks is easy to use and closing apps by tossing them up off the screen was kind of fun.  In general it was easy to use. The OS does not get in your way, which is exactly what you want.  It’s clean, fast and intuitive for the most part.

The TouchPad quickly gave me a sense of it’s own personality, the PALM personality that’s been there for a long time.  This emanates from the OS itself and the personality of the forums supported by dedicated and palm touched fans.  


WEB Browser

The WEB browser is the full Monte.  It’s a little poky in Gmail and I’m guessing it’s the heavy AJAX or java is making it poky.  In general it feels slower than my iPad2 but then again the IPad browser is NOT the full browser.  The scroll and pan is as snappy as the Ipad.  Maybe it’s as good, hard to tell so that’s a good thing.  BUT, clicking on a link SUCKS!  After clicking it looks like it didn’t actually work.  You see the ripple but nothing is happening....,but if you give it a second it does work.  This will really through you off, because you don’t know if you hit  a link or not or not.  This translates to other apps.  I’m wondering if this was the brain child of someone trying to save power (put it close to sleep and then wake it up when touched).  The iPad in comparison gives you feedback right away so you know you hit it the link.  It’s detail like this that Apple obsessed over for iOS.

Google Apps. via the browser. Google Docs is a good test of a web browser since they push the limits of most mobile browsers.  Where Apple fails here WebOS full browser rocks.  Initially there was some lag that could be due to auto-save or the initial start-up but once running I was impressed.  It’s fully usable except for features where you would use right-click to fix spelling (something I really need)  The lag is less than gMail when typing and I’m not sure why.  Bold and underline work and the keys that support this (like B) for bold work as expected.  In general it looks like this browser on the TouchPad is a full browser.  Keys like will highlight words just like you would expect.  Cut and paste didn’t work and it complained that it didn’t have access to the system clip-board.  I’m looking into this.  

Bottom line the browser scrolls well and has nice performance once you are using it.  Although loading the Google Docs page and initial document are slow (not any faster on the iPad BTW), it’s usable for heavy workloads.  If you can put up with the strange behavior of pause on navigation, you’ll like browsing on the TouchPad.

App Store

App store is nothing fancy but strait forward.  Installing something called “Preware” allows you to get to developer tools and stuff like kernel patches and other cool things (more on that below).  There are a couple of design goofs, like putting the “Back” button at the bottom when everywhere else it is at the top (Apple would shoot someone for doing this).  What’s strange is that the scrolling in the App store sucks.  It’s herkey jerkey and suckish (I’m sure a usability expert could articulate this better).

Apps are more expensive than Apple IOS apps and the UI is VERY slow and jerkey.  This is yet another strange and unexpected behavior from this device that has a dual core 1.5GHz processor and lots of memory.

QuickOffice HD

The TouchPad has a built in document editor called “QuickOffice HD” that can be is tied directly into dropBox, Google and  The cool thing is it treats them as remote file systems.  This is a nice touch and really makes this a well integrated system with your PC since you don’t have to rely on any sort of synchronization.  Creating a new doc fires up a new card and the editor is a little pokey but not bad.  Once typing I was cooking along and found that shortcuts like B don’t enact bold or other features you would expect.  It’s strange that the user experience is actually better on Google Docs.  If you are out of WiFi range this is really your only choice though.  I didn’t play a whole lot with it but performance was fine and it did it’s job.


The built in mail apps synced my Google Mail down to the device and worked OK.  It was strangely jerky when scrolling the mail list at times but it behaved itself fairly well.  Email coming in is full rich text but sending is plain text.  It tried to auto correct and put dots under word that it fixed for you so that you could easily put it back.  Red dots under a word indicated misspelled word.  

Evernote from the App Store

I’m a big Evernot user and was excited to see they had a WebOS version in the app store.  Unfortunately it was designed for the phone, not the tablet.  This combined with the fact that it wouldn’t “maximize” like the iPad does for phone only apps made it useless.


Photos was cool because it auto-synchronized with my Facebook photos.  Performance and navigation was fast.


We downloaded a few games for it and found that the performance was excellent along with sound.  


Printing done well.... sort of.  It was cool that when I went to print from the browser it showed both printers on my home network.  I never told the device what I had, and never had to go through a setup to add them.  Both printers are HP, a C618 Photosmart all-in-one and a new P1606 laser printer on my LAN at home.  Things went sideways when I went to print though.  The laser printed mainly black sheets of paper (maybe HP will sell more toner cartridges this way) but the color printer worked fine.  Go figure, this is something that I would expect HP to just nail.  They came close but didn’t stick the landing.

Customizable & Hacking for Speed!

The TouchPad is very “hackable” so to speak.  After following this excellent forum post to install “preware” that gives you over the air access to development tools and patches, I went in and installed some patches suggested in the forum.  The heavy hitters are to install patches that cause WebOS to stop logging everything to improve performance and the “Uber Kernel” plus Govnah that will run the CPU  up to it’s specified working rate of 1.512 GHZ (instead of 1.1).  It doesn’t break anything and continues to use a minimum frequency of 192 to improve battery life.  Think of it as “auto throttling”.  The kernel allows NFS mounting (I’ll try to mount my home NAS unit) at some time.  The stuff I focused on was performance boosting and this is the biggest complaint of users.  Because I did it immediately I can’t really tell you if there was much improvement but once the new kernel and Govnah is installed and I restarted, I used Govnah and clicked on the profile at the top and changed to “OnDemandTcl 1512”.  It seemed to be just a little more snappy.  You should see the max CPU go up to 1.5 GHz if it’s working correctly.  I installed xterminal and a few other patches and since it’s running linux, the possibilities are endless.  I hear that running the lates kernel and implementing these patches made a big difference for users that received the first shipment of units.

I hear that somone has ported Android operating system from Google to run on the HP hardware.  I may just try that in the future.


Now that HP has cancelled the device and the fate of WebOS is unclear I’m not sure what the support model will be from HP looking forward.  I do trust HP to stand by their product and warranty but am unclear what that is, especially given the $99 fire sale.  One thing is clear, there are a lot of big PALM fans out there and healthy set of forums at to help out newbies and technology hackers that want to go a little deeper.  Although I’m a Apple follower, I was impressed with the community feel of this support network and am kind of sad that HP killed it (although it was a good decision in my opinion).

It’s not clear if the TouchPad users out there will see upgrades and fixes to existing issues.  I feel that the development team is very passionate about their baby and would love to work on it but that doesn’t always match business objectives.  Hopefully a suitor will emerge that will continue to grow a great OS and support the installed base that they have.

The Stuff That Pisses Me Off

The TouchPad just seems poky.  I’ve never really played hard with anything other than iOS.  Is this how the other half lives?

Touching stuff

Touching stuff causes a little ripple under the finger which is cool and useful but sometimes even though I hit the object or button, it doesn’t really seem to work so I tap again.  This is frustrating.  Sometimes, as it turns out that, it’s just slow to get going but not always.  It may be that I am just use to an iOS device.  Scrolling is smooth in browser but definately not in some other apps.  

Phone Apps

Evernote, a 3rd party app that discussed above, is made for the Palm phone, not the TouchPad.  There is no way to make it larger.  At least iPad phone apps can be turned full-screen.  Opening a note opens a new card and there is no back link or button so I’m a little confused but that may be do to the fact that I don’t know how to use stacked cards correctly (cards being the UI metaphore users use to change between apps).  I can’t figure out how to get under a card so a swipe up to remove it in the stack closes it.  This is kind of funky.  Bottom line it kinda sucks.  Where else will I see this?


Regarding all this slow and poky behavior, this is my final take on this.  I wonder how WebOS would perform on the iPad 2.  Is it the OS or the hardware.  This is a just another example of why Steve Jobs turned his nose up at the “speeds and feeds argument”.  TouchPad may just proove his point.  The general user just doesn’t know this though.  You realy only grok it after a comparison and lived within the product for a while.  I think this is why Jobs harped on this topic but people wouldn’t listen.  

Apps seem to take a long time to load and new browser windows are slow to pop up.  [Update]  I just got a notification that I have a Skype message.  OK, no problem.  Until I go to read the f$#%^ng thing and it takes forever to load the app.  


I’ve seen some issues where I needed to cycle the WiFi (off/on) to get networking again.  I’m not sure if this is a local issue, my hardware, or if others are seeing this.  My testing is done about 4 feet from the WiFi access point so it’s not weak signal.


As I stated above, I expected HP to just rock in this area.  It sends nothing but pure black pages to my new P1606 laser printer but did work well with my Photosmart all-in-one.  Given the quality for the first release I would expect the HP team to have a fix for this but it may never come.


In summary, I’m impressed by the attention to detail.  It is not as snappy as my iPad, but this is NOT a cheep knockoff and it is backstopped by a legion of devoted WebOS guys.  The more I use it the more I know why I love my iPad though.  I really want to be more positive but I can’t.  The fact that HP priced it so close to the iPad really just killed them (until they came out for $99).

When the TouchPad shipped, HP stated that they had work to do, were going to fix it and then killed the product so I’m not sure all the mentioned fixes to their issues will ever materialize.   Bummer :(  See my printing comments above.

Bottom line, (or more accurately, last paragraph)... If I had not been an iPad 2 user I would have been a lot happier.  But given that I am, if I had paid close to full price, I’d send it back and pay full-price for an iPad2.  Now we know why it couldn’t move off the shelf.  Sad really.  For $99, the TouchPad rocks as a Kindle reader and browser and it has more power and does a LOT more than a plain old reader.  It’s too bad that HP couldn’t deliver this at a lower price point on first release, they may have done a lot better in the market, been able to improve the product and make a real dent in the market.

Other Info, References and one more thought

My key take-aways from the Gardian article above are as follows:
  • Apple tries to design for some people, NOT all users.  Companies like HP and others design for everyone and end up with generic stuff that's OK, but I don’t think you’ll ever LOVE IT.
  • Apple product user experience (UE) and touch an almost emotional nerve in their followers.  The whole Apple approach to design that focuses on what you want to do, de-emphasizing tech resonates with them.  These people really just love the feel and approach, it's partly an emotional response.  It's cool, we love it.  If you don't receive that emotional excitement response, and not everyone will, then you just don't get it. It’s just a smart phone, a piece of farm equipment that does it’s job.
  • If you are one of those that Apple UE just doesn't resonate with, you are perplexed as to why someone would spend so much money on Apple stuff (over a standard laptop say).  When the non-affected person sees people like me spending shit loads of cash on Apple stuff,  they think I've been duped, ripped off and, or I'm a total moron or obedient sheep (and who knows, I just might be).
  • If I have the chance to design again, this approach might affect how I look at my designs.  No doubt that Steve Jobs was a great salesman but he changed the music industry, revolutionized the mobile phone industry in multiple ways and made everyone rethink the importance of user experience.

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