WebOS 1.4 – What's Coming for the Palm Pre?

Palm announced at CES last week that WebOS 1.4 will be released in February, and with it a number of long-anticipated features and enhancements. In addition to video recording and Flash 10.1 (which should also be released as a plug-in for the current version, WebOS 1.3.5.1), WebOS 1.4 will bring speed and battery improvements.

Of course, as much as Palm has accomplished with WebOS so far, there’s certainly room for improvement. A slew of capabilities remain undelivered that are available on competing smartphones (primarily the iPhone and Android), and that were hallmarks of devices based on Palm’s previous operating system, PalmOS.

Here are a few things that are missing or limited in WebOS 1.3.5.1, that would be great to see in WebOS 1.4. Note that the predicted likelihoods have little or no basis in fact.

  • Voice recording and dialing: Palm has yet to provide access to the microphone in the Mojo SDK, and so voice recording applications and voice dialing remain (somewhat surprisingly) unavailable. It’s likely not terribly bold to predict that Palm will provide these capabilities in WebOS 1.4, and with them the platform becomes roughly check box-complete relative to the competition. In addition, enabling access to the microphone would enable other recording applications such as Shazam, which would be welcome indeed. Predicted likelihood: 50%.
  • GPU-enabled user interface: Using the GPU to power the WebOS UI would improve performance in the same way that graphics accelerators have improved PC performance since the earliest days of Windows. Not only would the GPU speed up the UI itself, but using it would relieve the CPU of the task of drawing windows and handling graphical UI events. Palm has stated that they are looking into emerging technologies, such as GPU-acclerated CSS transforms, but frankly there’s absolutely no indication that a GPU-accelerated UI is anywhere close to realization. Predicted likelihood: 5%.
  • Improved Synergy: As powerful as Synergy is, and as easy it is to forget it’s working in the background, improvements are needed to achieve its promise. For example, the ability to choose which contacts sync from sources like LinkedIn and Facebook would help with managing one’s information, and more data sources would help expand its reach. This could be as complex as selecting groups to sync, and as simple as selecting individual contacts to ignore. As it stands, Synergy is a powerful tool that requires some polish to realize its full potential. Predicted likelihood: 25%.
  • MSN/Windows Live IM support: WebOS supports GTalk, Yahoo!, and AOL Messenger. It needs to support MSN/Windows Live, an odd omission considering the number of people running Windows Messenger on their Windows PCs. Palm has been curiously silent on the issue, but they can’t ignore this user base forever. Predicted likelihood: 75%.
  • Enhanced Universal Search: I stand by my position that Universal Search should be limited to just a few ad hoc categories, leaving other search tasks to per-application search engines. The beauty of Universal Search is that it’s fast and pulls up actionable information, such as applications, contact options, and Web search criteria that one can act on immediately. Adding in too many other variables would create a jumbled mess that would obviate much of the tool’s advantages. However, the ability to customize the search options (e.g., add in Bing, remove Google) would be a nice addition, and some people with very busy schedules might like to see Calendar search included. Of course, even more customization, such as the ability to add and remove what’s included in a search, would also be welcome and might alleviate these concerns altogether. Frankly, however, I think Palm is happy with Universal Search as it is. Predicted likelihood: 5%.
  • Expanded backup: I’m fine with backup to the cloud, and don’t share some people’s desire for offline/local backup. However, I would like to see backup include messaging, which is the only bit of information I lose when I re-image my Pre. Predicted likelihood: 50%.
  • More customization: WebOS isn’t a terribly customizable operating system, particularly when it comes to system sounds and the like. Palm could at least enable tools to allow third parties to easily create themes (such as are currently available via homebrew). Predicted likelihood (of any additional customization options): 25%.
  • Security: The ability to password protect data is completely lacking on the Pre. This should be changed. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how strongly Palm agrees with me here. Predicted likelihood: 5%.
  • Tasks and enhanced Memos: These are by far the weakest of the WebOS native applications. Tasks lack categories and usable alarms, and Memos lack… well… just about everything one wants in a note taking app. There’s also no way to sync either, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense since syncing Tasks, at least, is already supported via EAS and Google now supports standalone tasks as well. Until these two applications are improved, and in particular Tasks, third party solutions are required to make WebOS a serious time-management tool. There’s nothing wrong with third party software, of course, but covering at least a few more of the basics would dramatically increase the usefulness of these particular core apps. Predicted likelihood: 25%.
  • Enhanced Email: The Email app is decent enough, but could benefit from some specific enhancements. For example,  it would be nice to be able to move messages from one folder to another, to delete more than one email at a time, to easily remove deleted emails from trash, etc. In this regard, Palm is a bit behind the iPhone, and way behind the Blackberry. Predicted likelihood (of any enhancements): 50%.
  • Scrolling enhancements: The Contacts list in particular can be very, very long, and scrolling such long lists in WebOS can be tedious at best. Palm should add features to make scrolling and/or moving to specific parts within lists more efficient. For example, scroll bars would be nice, as would alphabetical anchors/filters. Predicted likelihood: 5%.

This is a long list (and, it’s not exhaustive by any means), but it’s not intended to imply that WebOS isn’t an outstanding operating system. It is. However, as with any 1.X version of a product, it has a ways to go before it can be considered polished and complete. Palm has made incredible strides since announcing the Pre just over a year ago, having released nine updates since the Pre was released in June of last year, and WebOS 1.4 looks to be a very significant upgrade. Palm should be commended for first producing an outstanding new platform and then enhancing it regularly.

Feel free to add what you’d like to see in WebOS 1.4 in the comments.

Comments

  1. I agree with you 100% on the list you have compiled. One area palm needs to act on is the photo apps lack of security. In my passed dumb phones with sprint I had the ability to password protect all photos or some with a password.

  2. I agree with you 100% although I believe if you go into contacts, you’ll be able to filter em out by just typing, synergy’ll do the rest :3
    I hope live messenger comes to webOS. I needs it :O
    and has anyone noticed that the palm pre plus and pixi plus don’t offer yahoo! IM?

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  1. [...] Now that webOS 1.4 have been released, it might be interesting to compare the update to some predictions in a previous post: [...]

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