Friday, 23 December 2011

A future for HP's WebOS

A friend recently bought an unlocked HP Veer in the recent HP WebOS fire sale for about 100 USD (inc shipping & duties to Barbados).  Decided he didn't want it, so offered it to me for the same price.  I thought "100 USD for an unlocked smartphone is worth a punt, right?  Worst case, it will be a cool toy for the kids."  This is a 4G smartphone, with wifi, GPS, 5MP camera, capacitative touchscreen and a slide out keyboard in a tiny 103 gram package.  For 100 USD... and it rocks!

Don't get me wrong, when I say smartphone, I mean in terms of equivalent features.  In comparison to the iPhone or a decent Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Droid its 2.4" screen is really too small for anything other than glancing at notifications, just as the keyboard is too small for typing anything other than quick questions / searches / tweets. But that's all I really need when I'm totally mobile.  I'm not one of those idiots who sends a lengthy text standing in the middle of the pavement or while sitting in a traffic jam.  If it's not urgent enough to call the person, it can wait until I'm sitting with my tablet or laptop in front of me. So this tiny phone, at 100 grams (most smartphones are 135+ grams) is perfect for me.

But it runs WebOS, not Android or Apple's iOS.
That's actually a benefit. Here's why: the user interface for webOS is based on 'cards' (apps, basically) that you can arrange in 'decks'. You swipe up to move out of a card, and swipe left/right to move between cards, and tapping the card to reopen the app. To discard the card (close the app), simply swipe up from the deck.  It's like Expose on the mac, except even easier. And here's the clincher: it works on tiny screens. WebOS doesn't even need the single button that Apple iphones/pads have.

But WebOS is dead, right?  HP killed it after their tablet and phone sales tanked, primarily due to lack of apps because all the developer effort/money was in iOS and Android phones and tablets.  Well, HP have opensourced it (so licensing it is free), but many are still predicting that it is simply too late for this admittedly neat OS.  I'm inclined to agree... for smartphones.  But not for other simpler devices that need easy-to-build, intuitive functionality on robust, simple interfaces (a touchscreen). Like watches. Or kiosks. Or musical instruments.  Anything with a simple LCD screen could conceivably swap that out for a touchscreen and run a simple app on WebOS.

With some deft industrial engineering to tweak the physical chassis, the HP Veer could be an incredible smart watch. Just turn it on its side and add some wrist-friendly contours: make the back curved, with a curved slide-out keyboard (tricky), add a nice wide strap. It would be chunky, but chunky watches are cool right now, at least for men.

Even if Apple upgraded their iPod Nano to be an iPhone Nano, the only way they could compete with the usability of WebOS would be to fork iOS (again) and integrate WebOS features into it.  Ditto for Android. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Android integrates the features into its next version, as it is already opensource.

So, HP: forget the phones and tablets. Think watches and LCD replacements (you could start with your printers!).  Give us a shout if you need a hand.

Have a great festive season everyone..!

(thanks to ZDnet and Engadget for the images)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Google Currents: the key is production

So Google released their 'Currents' mobile app the other day. At first glance it looks like a number of other swishy, turn-your-newsfeeds-into-a-magazine style apps: flipbook etc.  So is this just an update to Google Reader?  After all, you can select your existing GReader feeds to add to your, uh, magazine rack, in addition to the showcased titles.  Well, yes and no.

It is definitely a more narrative reading experience than Google Reader: pick your site/magazine, and you can flip through it page by page, or pull up the contents bar to hop to sections you prefer. The layout is magazine boxes, with pictures, rather than lists of headings.  So Google are giving the reader a more tablet-friendly experience on their existing newsfeeds.  But why that showcase content?  Huffington Post, Forbes etc. all have apps content icons (appzines?) on there.  Are they seriously trying to compete with the Flipbooks and Pulses of this world?  And what about all those publishers with their own apps, like the FT and Economist?  Just what is the point?

Well, I stumbled upon the Google Currents Producer this morning and it all became clear: the power of Google Currents is not in its output, but in the ease of production.  Bloggers and content managers, amateur and pro, who have invested hours and money on buffing up their blogs to pixel perfection only to have them shredded by crap formatting on tablets and phones, now have a tool with which they can create a tablet- and phone-friendly appzine in minutes.  We're not just talking RSS feed aggregation, either: Google Docs, Youtube vids, Google+, photo streams... basically you can curate your life as an edition, broken down into rights-controlled sections (of articles, photos, videos, news feeds, social feeds etc.) and publish it, magazine-style, via Currents.

It's good for consumers, but it's great for producers.  And that could be the key difference.  Especially if they put in-app payments into this thing: imagine being able to charge micropayments by the section.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Atos bans internal emails

Interesting news last week that the French Consulting firm Atos is banning internal emails.  While I'm not sure it is practical across the board, it is a bold step in the right direction. 
So much email is bulky, repetitive trash, either because senders are not judicious enough about who they include on their distribution lists, or because some recipients use it to throw the monkey back on your back ("could you resend me that report?").
Pushing such a policy should at least drive staff to focus on what is important. IM is both synchronous and asynchronous, so it should, if coupled with decent document collaboration tools, tidy up and speed up office communications.  It remains to be seen whether the collaboration tools are up to it, though.

An interesting stat from elsewhere (source?) shows that only 16% of teenagers use email as a primary form of communication - most use IM and voice.  This would imply that email's days are numbered, but, as we broach the festive season, there's clear evidence in xmas cards and annual letters that old communication media never die, they just mutate to different, more specialised purposes.