HP falls short with first TouchPad WebOS update

WebOS 3.02 was released last night, improving some of the tablet's speed issues, but much more is needed

After Hewlett-Packard's hypefest for its WebOS-based TouchPad tablet, the real thing was a big disappointment, garnering lukewarm reviews from most technology websites. I found it surprisingly mediocre in its execution: slow performance, limited basic apps, and generally behind the curve compared to the iPad and Android 3.0-based tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

HP apologists and WebOS fanboys said to wait, that HP would make the TouchPad better through system updates. A month after the TouchPad debut, HP has issued its first software update for the TouchPad. WebOS 3.02.68 was released last night for download from the tablet's System Update utility. Does it fix the major gaps between the TouchPad and the competing Apple and Android tablets? No.

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Instead, it's a baby-steps update that focuses on one big issue with the TouchPad: its slow performance. The TouchPad is noticeably more responsive in several applications with the update installed. That's a good thing. But don't kid yourself: It's still noticeably sluggish compared to the iPad, Android tablets, and even the laggard BlackBerry PlayBook.

Unfortunately, the TouchPad's limited business apps remain the essentially same. The only "big" change is that you can now manage multiple messages at the same time in the Drafts and Outbox folders. In WebOS, you won't find options to constrain search in mail, for example, or support for groups or message threading. There's no support for .ics invitation files in WebOS, nor any quick-scroll capability for your contacts. For consumer apps, HP's iTunes equivalent (HP Play) is still in beta a month after the TouchPad's release. At least HP has added a calculator and clock app to its basic portfolio; they're simple but serviceable.

In WebOS itself, there's still no way to have Exhibition mode go to sleep after a specific period of time, to save power. (Exhibition mode is essentially a lock screen that appears with access to your agenda and other information while the TouchPad is docked but not in use.) Storage for downloaded apps continues to be limited to just two panes. Once more, there's no control over location privacy on a per-app basis. As before, text selection is difficult and awkward. File syncing is constrained in that you can't connect to a PC while also using your TouchPad's apps. And support for corporate security policies is just as basic as in earlier iterations.

If you own a TouchPad, the update will be a pleasant improvement. If you've been sitting on the fence about which tablet to choose, the WebOS 3.02 update doesn't change enough to put the TouchPad in contention with the top tablet, Apple's iPad, or the runner-up, Samsung's Galaxy Tab. 10.1.

Remember: Apple will up the ante considerably when iOS 5 comes out in the next two or three months, and Google may do the same when it releases Android OS 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" in the next four or five months. The gap will ony widen if HP's pace doesn't quicken in a big way. A WebOS 3.1 update by Labor Day would show real zeal on HP's part to overcome the TouchPad's initial stumble.

This article, "HP falls short with first TouchPad WebOS update," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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