Apps and the HP TouchPad or Rather, Apps and a Tablet

Yesterday I published two posts regarding things I like and things I don’t like about the HP TouchPad. As expected they’ve generated some interesting conversations in the comments. One of the reasons I can’t recommend the HP TouchPad currently has to do with Apps, or rather the lack thereof. Now, I’m not into a numbers game here like many are. That’s a reviewer’s shortcut that is a lazy and dangerous one to rely on, and as I said in that post, name me a new device with a new platform that had large numbers of Apps available when it first reached the market. While webOS has been around (arguably in a niche with very loyal supporters), the launch of the HP TouchPad was and is perceived as the real “coming out” party for the OS.  Note also, (if you want to play the numbers game) that currently according to AndroidCentral’s numbers, webOS has a few more Tablet optimized Apps ready to go than Android’s Honeycomb 3.1 with a count of 300 or so to 292. But again, that’s a meaningless game. At the very least HP isn’t following Apple’s specious lead by repeating Apple’s claims at the original iPad launch that they had all these great iOS Apps ready to go. Many of those were iPhone Apps that could be scaled up, but it was a lousy marketing scheme that most of the tech press fell for. What Google is doing with Android and the lack of transparency about its Apps, specifically Tablet optimized Apps, is difficult to discern.

Far more important, to me, are the types of Apps and what they bring to the Tablet experience. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve never been one to look at touch Tablets as replacements for other computing devices. I see them as devices in and of themselves and successful Apps are the ones that make what I do on a Tablet either unique, or they can help me solve an issue that I would prefer to solve away from a desktop or laptop. I’ll admit up front that this reasoning behind stems from my experiences with the iPad and the iPad 2. While that may seem unfair, it is what it is. So, that said, here’s my thinking on Tablet Apps, or the lack thereof, on the HP TouchPad, as well as with Honeycomb 3.1 on the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Consumption Apps

OK, I’m not one who beats the drum that says Tablets are only consumption devices. I actually get some work done on mine and I’ll talk about those Apps later. That said, Tablets are great devices (or should be) for consuming media in all forms. They are great devices to read from. They are fantastic devices to browse and discover from. Increasingly, thanks to developers on the iOS platform,  they are becoming great devices to personalize how you consume articles, RSS feeds, Tweets and other social media, as well as countless other sources on the Internet. This customization or personalization fits perfectly with just how personal these devices are. I’m going to break this consumption Apps into several categories: Reading and discovering news. Reading Books. Viewing Video. Listening and discovering Music.

Reading and discovering news

Examples of this from my iPad include the following Apps: Flipboard, Zite, Instapaper, and Reeder. While it could certainly be argued that you can consume most of what I read and collect in those Apps on the web via a browser, the key for me is that these Apps give me a very personal look into what I’m consuming.

Flipboard is the first example, and in many ways the conversation could begin and end with that App. Able to scan Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, and just about any source I want and have it available in a magazine like interface that feels perfect on a touch Tablet screen makes this App the first thing I open up in the morning and the last App I look at before retiring at night. Flipboard not only makes the iPad experience more enjoyable, it makes my browsing and discovery more enjoyable as well. To be blunt, the very personal Flipboard experience is what Tablet makers and Tablet OS developers need to focus on if they want to compete in my view. I guess I would say this, none of the iPad competitors would dream of releasing a Tablet without YouTube. Quite honestly I think they need to think the same way about experiences like Flipboard.

Zite is a similar experience that allows you to build your own magazine by voting up or voting down stories in categories. Like Flipboard, articles are presented in a rich layout that make them a joy to read. Both Zite and Flipboard let me send articles I want to read later to Instapaper which is a great App that lets me build a small library of articles that I can read when I find some leisure time. To my knowledge there is nothing like Flipboard or Zite on the HP TouchPad at present, nor is there anything similar for Honeycomb Tablets. (If I’m wrong please point me there.) There is an App similar to Instapaper for the HP TouchPad called Paper Mache. It actually uses Instapaper’s servers (you need a $1 per month paid Instapaper account to store your articles). All three of these Apps have the ability to become what my iPad is about when I choose to fire them up.

Reader is an excellent App for reading RSS feeds. Again, it takes advantage of the Tablet form factor in the way it is designed. (Side note: There is an excellent Mac version of Reader available in the Mac App Store as well and I highly recommend that too.) This is a perfect example why a well thought out App (or at least a web App) tailored for a Tablet is a must. Take Google Reader as an example. It used to be my goto way of reading RSS feeds. Google seems to have abandoned development of it currently and the mobile web versions make skimming through feeds more of a chore than a delight. I see at least a couple of Feed Reader examples for the HP TouchPad available, but nothing that seems to attract me away from the experience I already really enjoy. As for Android? Well, let’s just say there looks like a lot of choices for an also ran here.

Reading Books

I already mentioned what appears to be some sort of problem with the Kindle App in this post. Reviewers who received evaluation units had the App installed but those who purchased the HP TouchPad have a shortcut that leads to a “coming soon” place holder. At the moment on the TouchPad there are no eBook reading Apps. Sorry, but this is just no way to launch a new Tablet and platform. Given that you can pick your bookstore (Amazon, B&N, etc…) and other options on both iOS and Android this is a real loss here.

Reference Reading

A few reference items I am accustomed to carrying around with me on the iPad that I don’t find on webOS. One is a touch Tablet version of The Bible and the other is the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Yeah, my theatre geekiness is showing there. All three platforms have a Tablet friendly version of The US Constitution. However iOS again leads the pack with other Tablet friendly reference works. Are these essentials? No.

Viewing Video

All three platforms at my disposal currently allow you to view YouTube. Quite honestly I find the experience equally good on all three and for the amount of YouTube viewing I do, there’s no real edge here. The big hole  in my case is Netflix. I really enjoy Netflix on the iPad. It has yet to make its debut on Android and of course it isn’t on the HP TouchPad either. Perhaps that’s not important to others but it is to me and important enough that I would consider it a deal breaker if I wasn’t in the mode I am of checking things out these platforms. iOS is far ahead of both Android and webOS in this category.

Listening and Discovering Music

When it comes to discovering music there’s not much that separates the three platform, although iOS is ahead with the number of options available. In terms of playback I’d rate the iOS experience as superior, but others who aren’t locked into the iTunes platform might easily disagree. Via Amazon’s web based Cloud Player you can take advantage of that streaming service easily enough. Things are set to change here in the next few months with Apple’s iCloud service getting set to roll out, but I think if streaming music is your thing with few exceptions you can say this category is a toss up. If you want your music on your device, I’d vote for iOS, but you can accomplish the same thing with the other two platforms as well.

Apps for Work

I’m a big fan of QuickOffice and that is supported on all three platforms and it has DropBox support on all three as well. Speaking of Dropbox, you can install it on Android or iOS, but not yet on webOS. HP does have a deal with Box for 50GB of free storage although I’ve never used that service. Evernote, another App I use every day is also missing in action from webOS. Like Flipboard, Evernote is one of those must haves for a device/OS combo like this and the fact that it is missing at launch is telling. Sure you can use the web version, but again, the point here is to focus on Apps that make the touch Tablet experience unique.

Apps for Fun

Yeah, that translates as games most of the time and for most folks. Angry Birds has become such a standard that it is almost beyond being called ubiquitous. It appears on all three platforms. A version of Need for Speed appears on webOS. I use this App to demo the iPad all the time. I haven’t downloaded it for webOS yet simply because it costs $10, but it says it is optimized for the TouchPad and has gotten some good reviews. I would hope that would be the case. I did download a free game or two and found them sluggish, especially Solitaire Universe. Just moving cards around was painful.

But Apps for Fun can be more than just games and iOS has both Android and webOS outpaced by a large margin here. The same is true when it comes to Social Networking Apps. There are certainly choices on the Android platform for Twitter, et al… But webOS is lacking here at the moment. SpazHD does and adequate job with Twitter. The HP built Facebook App is quite nicely done, although with the way things keep changing with Social Networking services these days, I think any success with these kind of Apps needs to be driven by developers who are anxious to keep moving their work forward.

Something I haven’t mentioned here are the stock Apps such as the Browser, email, Calendar, etc… All three platforms have good implementations by and large. I use GMail, and there is no question that Android is at the top of the heap here in my view. The same is true for the Calendar and Maps, although the Bing powered Maps on webOS is quite nicely done. I really enjoy the full featured browser in webOS more than I do Safari or the Android browser. If nothing else this browser combined with JustType on webOS offers what I think is the best example of how a Tablet should work out of the box. If you’re an Exchange user I urge you to check out the comments of this post. GBM Reader abgenx is using four different Exchange accounts on webOS and says it works like a charm. Perhaps there is something to those Enterprise claims from HP after all.

What I’ve listed above are Apps that are in some way important to me, and more to the point important enough in my view to be considered almost essentials. Again, I can’t fault HP too much for not having any and all of these Apps ready to go because they have to rely on developers. Android is the same, but for the life of me I can see no coherent strategy there. Apple is way ahead with iOS and this is going to force HP and Google to work publicly to pull developers into their realm if they want to remain competitive on an Apps front. Again, I don’t think the numbers game matters in reality, but because of the way Apple has seeded the garden, HP and Google have some real work to do if they ever want to yield any real harvest and avoid that numbers game. Like it or not the numbers game is the measuring stick those who shape opinions are choosing to use. To call that unfair may be true, but to ignore that fact is unfortunately pouring salt on your own wounds.

Other posts in this series: