HP TouchPad 9.7in WebOS tablet
The true alternative to Android and Apple?
The WebOS experience
Apps can be selected from a dock of favourites along the bottom of the screen, or by entering an Android-like screen of Apps, which sits alongside Downloads, Favourites and Settings tabs. App store downloads, therefore, sit separate from built-in software, unless you move the lot to Favourites. Each setting is implemented as an app.
Tapping an app pops you back to the main screen and a new window is added to the line. You can move the line while the app is loading, which isn't an instant process by a long chalk. Some apps take a good few seconds to load. It feels longer, in part because all you have is a rotating symbol for feeback.
Photos are photos - whether they're stored online or on your tablet
At the top of the screen is WebOS' "Just type..." bar, a universal search field along the lines of iOS' Spotlight search, finding not only strings in contacts and such, but also app and settings names.
Apple could do a better job of integrating search - even iOS 5 keeps it off to one side - or maybe Apple figures folk so rarely perform searches it doesn't need to be up front. I very rarely use Spotlight, since each app makes it easy enough to find what I'm after, and I know whether a name is a contact's moniker, Twitter handle, a place where a meeting scheduled to take place, or is an app.
I suspect the WebOS' Just Type, powerful though it is, will be similarly used infrequently.
Your info is always available in the cloud
iOS 5 will prove crucial in any judgement punters make between iPad or TouchPad. HP was keen to make my try WebOS' unintrusive notifications. Yes, they're better than iOS 4's alternative, but iOS 5 fixes that.
But even iOS 5 doesn't integrate social networking and other communications channel to the degree WebOS does. This is the HP OS' real strength: it treats Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, even Apple's own MobileMe - though that will morph into iCloud soon enough - as services, not apps. Likewise email systems such as MS Exchange, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail and such.
This is a key philosphical difference between the two operating systems, and one reason why WebOS is way more cloud-centric than iOS. The Photos & Videos app, for instance, doesn't simply present side-loaded content, it shows you your pics from Facebook, Flickr etc., too.
It's saying you don't need to know where you pictures are kept, all that matters is that you can look at them when you want to.
WebOS has pre-loaded support for multiple mail services
Likewise, why fire up a separate app to make a Facebook post or send an IM about a site you're viewing in the - Adobe Flash-equipped, natch - browser? iOS' multi-tasking makes flipping between these apps quicker than it used to be, but it's still taking an app-centric approach. WebOS has a more task-centric view, and it feels more modern.
So too is its ability to communicate with HP's WebOS 2.0-based smartphones, though given how few folk own one, this may prove less of a selling point than HP seems to think.