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?

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