Palm's WebOS 2.0- what to expect

Palm today shared details of what to expect in the next major release of its mobile platform, webOS 2.0. The information is technically about the SDK or software development kit for webOS developers, but provides a glimpse of improved features and functions that webOS 2.0 devices will see. This next version is likely to power not just smartphones, but also tablets and printers, according to comments made by HP after the company purchased Palm for $1.2 billion in April. Here’s an overview of what to expect in webOS 2.0 and why such features matter.

Stacks — Palm is taking what’s arguably its most innovative webOS feature — multitasking with apps using a card paradigm — and making it more efficient with stacks. Each card represents a running program, and webOS 2.0 will smartly stack programs that have some type of user link between them. Think of tapping a URL in the email card, for example. In that case, the operating system will group the email and browser cards together, allowing for faster and more intuitive app switching: smarter stacks make for smarter multitasking.

Just Type – The old (but very useful and now often imitated) Universal Search in webOS gets a new name and greater functionality. Called Just Type, webOS users can still start typing at anytime to find and launch apps, look up contacts or search the web. But the search feature can also be integrated into apps by developers and will auto-suggest words based on context. Even better will be the ability for what Palm calls “quick actions.” Typing on the keyboard can initiate emails, text messages and social networking status messages without opening an app. I liken this to the new Google Voice Actions launched for Android earlier this month and I hope that Palm doesn’t limit quick actions to keyboard input only — voice control is beneficial for hands-free smartphone use.

Synergy — Again, this function was ground-breaking when Palm introduced it, but it seems as though every platform can now sync contact data with social networks and third-party services such as LinkedIn. Palm is taking Synergy a step further in webOS 2.0, allowing developers to tap into these connector functions. Palm says a third-party IM app could use the contacts database on a phone or integrate a sports team schedule into the calendar, for example. I’ll be curious to see if webOS 2.0 provides the users with control over what Synergy data can be shared with a application.

Exhibition — This feature adds more value to the über-cool Touchstone dock that charges a Palm device using wireless magnetic induction. Expect to see webOS apps that run in a “dock” mode when on the Touchstone charging puck. WebOS devices will be smart enough to know when they’re on the dock, so these types of apps can just kick off and run automatically when the phone senses the dock.

JavaScript / PDK / HTML 5 — Palm breaks these developer-specific enhancements out, but I’m lumping them all together because when used in combination, they should allow for superb third-party applications. Palm says the new support for JavaScript nodes will bridge “new capabilities—like low-level networking, file system access, and binary data processing—to the web technology stack. The PDK, or Plug-In Development Kit isn’t new, but comes out of beta with webOS 2.0. And it won’t be standalone as it is today — developers can create webOS plug-ins using C or C++ and call them from basic HTML / CSS / JavaScript apps, which form the basis of a webOS title. Palm is also adding HTML 5 enhancements, which should bring offline data caching for apps that traditionally require a connection.

The new features in webOS 2.0 are fairly evolutionary, but that’s not meant in a negative way — having owned a Palm Pre for eight months, I found the webOS platform to be more revolutionary than any other mobile operating system at the time. As a result, the webOS 2.0 news appears to me as the next logical step to make an outstanding platform even better. I’m looking forward to what can be done with great Palm software and HP’s hardware expertise.


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