Improving Palm’s webOS: Launcher

Palm’s webOS took years of development, but has only been publically available since June 6th of this year. We’ve seen a number of incremental updates and expect webOS 1.3.1 update to hit possibly this week. It will likely contain minor improvements, but we’ve starting thinking about how Palm might improve webOS for 2.0. There is no denying that webOS impresses against any of the current crop of mobile operating systems, but this young OS can certainly stand to see some improvements. Today, we’re taking a look at the launcher and offering our suggestions for improvements.


The launcher, it’s really the mother of all apps since it allows you to access all of your applications and settings for your phone. webOS is such a departure from the old Palm OS, yet Launcher has many ties to what Palm OS users had grown accustomed to on both Treo and Centro smartphones over the years. Back then, the Launcher was confusing to new users and I don’t think that’s changed much with webOS.

Difficult to find and organize apps
To keep things organized, Launcher uses a grid that displays icons in neat 3×3 rows. If you have more than 9 icons on a screen, you’ll see an arrow to scroll down. I have a fair amount of apps on my Palm Pre, but still find it frustrating to locate apps. While I’m certainly not a UI expert, I do know that it takes entirely too much time to scroll left, right, up and down when looking for an app. Now where did I stash that DirecTV Sunday Ticket app? Meeting with those involved with the development of the Pre, I expressed my frustration with app management. Their suggestion was to use Universal Search to locate a specific app. This is certainly a workaround, but that’s exactly the problem. It avoids having to look inside a crowded closet. When my wife needs something from our attic, I quickly steer her aside and volunteer to wade through my boxes of 80’s t-shirts to find something. I’ve become her Universal Search, instead of allowing her to see the clutter and not finding what she needs. Universal Search is just that, a workaround that avoids you from seeing all the clutter. Does it work? Absolutely, but there is a better way.


Improve the grid
If they made the grid tighter, perhaps you could 12 apps at a time. On an iPhone, you can see 16 apps with 4 docked apps for a total of 20. That’s actually too many and gets clutter quite easily. If Palm could display 12 plus 4, that would be more than sufficient. On the iPhone, I tend to remove the bottom row of apps to provide myself with a swipe zone. I find it makes it easier to sort through apps and my finger swipes don’t accidentally launch apps.


Scroll left and right, but not down
The ability to scroll down for apps reminds me of Palm OS and that’s one feature that probably shouldn’t have been brought over to webOS. Scrap it. To allow more space for apps, just provide more app panels. I won’t even suggest a limit. How about we start with the minimum needed and then provide an option to create a new panel. This would allow obsessively organized smartphone owners to categorize their apps based upon category. I could have a panel dedicated to sports or game apps. If I have more than 12 apps in a category, I’d simply create a new panel.

What about categories?
While Palm was borrowing from the Treo, why did they forget to pocket categories? I’m guessing that perhaps this was a confusing feature for new users, so they dropped it? As a power user, I’d love the ability to hide and show apps based upon categories I set up. Now that’s a feature of smartphone!


Palm’s App Catalog now features well over 350 apps and will likely grow quickly once out of beta. As apps get added to our devices, the Launcher needs improvements to help sort through and organize more effectively. Without relying on patches as a crutch, what improvements would you like to see Palm implement in the Launcher? How are you organizing and finding your apps? Are you content with the current Launcher?


  1. I agree 100% and we just need that launcher to have improved speed! I would like a robust Facebook app,and for the phone itself I can never seem to make my Palm Treo and now the Pre ring or alert nowhere loud as I need to and nowhere loud as other competitors phones. Come on Palm, pump up the volume!
    My wife’s Blackberry I can hear 2 blocks away practically. Nice to lower the volume if that loud but sucks when I repeatedly miss calls in a busy environment.

  2. Why wait for Palm to make these changes. You can already modify your Pre to let you add/delete panels in the launcher and to display apps 4×4 4×5 5×5 however you want. Its easy. Just install Preware and install the appropriate patches.

    Categories would be nice and is not available, but I just group my apps in panels according to categories. Works just as well.

  3. Christopher Meinck says:

    So that when updates appear, you don’t find yourself scrambling to remove unauthorized patches.

    Preware appeals to a niche audience and that’s great. I’m more interested in how Palm can improve the core OS.

  4. I was wondering if you type a letter, does Pre launcher gets you to that alphabetical order ???

  5. I fully agree that there needs to be more panels. I also like the idea of putting them closer together to fit 12 on screen, because as of now, you can fit three full rows (9 total) and about 5/7 of a fourth row, which just looks awkward.

    When a notification appears, it shrinks everything on screen a little, so we’d still get most of that fourth row.

    Another thing I liked about my Treo was having the four main palm buttons do four other tasks when I pressed the the alt key. This could be transferred onto WebOS by setting up four (or five, including the launcher icon) alternate apps to put on the bottom row when the orange alt key is pressed. The new icons could slide in from the side or just change into them.

  6. I admit that the lack of categories in all the stock apps and the launcher were big disappointments. Now, though, I’d rather see user-assignable tags so we can group apps however we want. An app could be assigned multiple tags and would, therefore, show up on multiple “category” lists.

    I did try the 4×4 patch but found I must have massive fingers since about a quarter of the time I’d get a nearby app instead of the one I wanted.

  7. Also, it would be nice to be able to “Hide” certain apps that came with the Pre. Similar to how you can Hide/Show The recycling bin, my computer, etc. on the desktop of a PC, I don’t really care about NASCAR or NFL, and I get that I can’t delete them, but I don’t want them to clutter up my launcher.

  8. I’ve already suggested to Palm that we need to add panels and be able to categorize them; three just isn’t enough. Also, I disagree about getting rid of vertical scrolling. I say we limit it to a single page. Ensure we have three columns of 4, clearly displaying 12 apps, able to scroll down to another 12. I hate having 30 apps in a panel, scrolling down, going too far, just to go back up. Yes, it’s very easy to control, but it’s my personal preference. With four panels of 24 apps, I can fly through those quite quickly. Also, when you go from one panel to another, it always starts you at the top. We should have the option to page back to where you left off.

    We still don’t have bluetooth file transfer, which is indispensable considering you don’t always have reception to MMS.

    Speaking of MMS… we cannot forward texts. Seriously? Virtually worthless free phones can do this. It’s actually embarrassing.

    The calendar should allow you to attach contacts for meetings/events. Isn’t that part of what synergy is all about?

    Besides hiding apps, I used to keep certain contacts, memos, tasks, etc., hidden/masked on my Treo. Why is this feature gone?

    I miss having a camcorder & file browser, not to mention voice memo. These things aren’t all that essential though, but again, it’s a step backwards from the Treo/Centro.

    Again, the lack of the high speed network comes into play if you need to create a quick simple spreadsheet. Then again, it’s virtually useless anyway, even if you’re in a WiFi hot spot. So, we’ve lost the ability to create spreadsheets.

    For $200, I would expect to be able to customize my Palm Pre to look & act however I wished… like my Treos & Centro. I do like the look & feel of how WebOS works, but everyone has their own preferences, and we should be allowed to express them.

    Overall, the hardware is beautiful, the OS is impressive, but it’s not a balance we should be looking for. It’s not fair for Palm to balance a host of new features & functionality with the absence of many of the older essential features that made Palm users so very loyal. When most Palm Pre users have families, potentially adding another Pre or Pixi to the plan for a spouse & older child, what we want should carry more weight. I know the lack of WiFi has 111% guaranteed that the TWO PIXIs I was planning on buying, will NOT be purchased.

  9. Okay, sorry for being long-winded, but here’s one more thing I forgot to mention. Does anyone else find the button at the bottom completely useless? It switches to card view, and selects a card. Is that really any easier than an up-swipe, or a tap to select? We really need to be able to customize that reduntantly useless button. This is typical of Palm with the phone button; hence the popularity of LudasP to give it functionality.

  10. Yes, the bottom button is useless. That’s why they took it off the Pixi.

  11. I would love to see that damn button replaced with a “D-pad” or “joystick” like thing like the Treo/Centro has… There are still times I would like to navigate through menus/apps with one thumb access and cant get my fingers all over the screen and gesture accurately Pre 2.0…

    Also… we need a MUCH BETTER way to cut/copy/paste… and hello… every piece of text on every screen should be copyable!!

    someone mentioned the ability to forward texts… YES YES…
    and how about the ability to have savable templates for group lists to have ready for texts… this seems like a SYNERGY obvious function, but every time I want to text all the people in my office, I need to add all the names by hand ;( – COMMON!!!

  12. G. W. James says:

    I love my Pre, but miss so many features I enjoyed on my Treo. WebOS and the synergy concept is truly the future of mobile computing but I want my Treo features like Phone Lookup.

    Can anyone say “Zen of Palm?”

  13. I would like the option to place apps in folders.

  14. I have never seen a more open platform that webOS. It was made so easy for the community to customize it to be exactly as they want it to be. Many people including myself have made things so the average joe can customize their devices just the way they want and as easy as installing an app. In fact palm made the code for adding launcher pages so we have our categories (without names) to organize apps. The code was commented out probably for testing or completion of the feature to whatever their goal for it is. And made it so more icons are seen on the screen 4×4 5×4 5×5 (mind you most won’t want more because they will accidentally tap an icon next to the one they want to open). But people moan and whine saying palm should write the code instead of the users. Who cares who wrote the code that gives you what you want. It is absurd to say “I’m not going to install something someone else other than palm coded to get what I want for my device”. The device tells you when an update is available so that is not an issue with customization of the device. It takes a matter of seconds to remove the stuff and add back on when the update is finished. And it isn’t a certainty that if the stuff isn’t removed that there will be any ill effects. Palm has no valid reason to devote resources to make the GUI customizable to meet everyone’s desires of how they want their device to look when they have all sorts of functionality they are working on. In fact that is the express reason they made webOS as open as they did.

  15. All off these are good comments. There are a couple items I would love to see – why cant you set a task to have a specific date and time reminder? Why when you set a birthday in a contact it will not show as an alert on the birthday itself?

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