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Is Apple Copying Palm's WebOS? (salon.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Salon: Released in 2009 by Palm -- the same company that popularized the PDA in the 1990s -- WebOS pioneered a number of innovations, including multiple synchronized calendars, unified social media and contact management, curved displays, wireless charging, integrated text and Web messaging, and unintrusive notifications [that have all been copied by the mobile operating systems that defeated it on the marketplace]. The operating system, built on top of a Linux kernel, was also legendary for how easily it could be upgraded by users with programming skills. WebOS was also special in that it used native internet technologies like JavaScript for local applications. That was a huge part of why it was able to do so much integration with Web services, something its competitors at the time simply couldn't match.

Apple's upcoming iOS 11 once again demonstrates how far ahead of its time WebOS really was. The yet-to-be-released Apple mobile system has essentially copied the WebOS model for switching apps by having the user swipe upward from the bottom to reveal several "cards" that represent background applications. While Apple's decision to remove its massively overworked Home button is an improvement, it is still an inferior way of switching apps, compared to what you could do on WebOS eight years ago.

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Is Apple Copying Palm's WebOS?

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  • Apple & Amiga (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @06:28PM (#55134225)

    Same old story. Am I the only one who noticed how long it took for Macintosh to support multiple full-screen programs and easy switching between them, which Amiga had already done starting in 1985?

    • I don't know if I'm more amused by "they copied a gesture" or "they copied the idea of running 2 programs at the same time 30 years ago".

    • Re:Apple & Amiga (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @06:47PM (#55134301)

      This is a non-story. iOS has supported switching between background apps via cards for several years already, and supported it via a slightly different interface prior to that. I think it's been around since iOS 4 in some form or fashion.

      The only thing that's different now is that they once again tweaked the UI slightly and made it so that it appears via a different gesture than before (right now, you can either double-tap the Home button or four-finger pinch to bring up the app switcher, depending on how your settings are configured and which iOS device you're on).

      • Re:Apple & Amiga (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hajile ( 2457040 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @08:11PM (#55134543)

        There's a fundamental priority difference between webOS and iOS/Android.

        Let's first take a look at macOS (this basically applies to Windows as well). How do you open an app? First, you check the dock for commonly-used applications. If they aren't there, you search the applications folder (or launchpad in newer versions) or use +Space to search for it. Notice that dock offers direct access, but other apps require extra steps.

        Window managing is what a desktop OS is all about -- NOT opening apps. You have Spaces/Mission Control to group apps (because positional memorization is important to humans -- I suspect 2D spaces were superior in that regard to the 1D mission control desktops). You can drag windows around, resize them, put them side-by-side, etc. Closing Apps is also first-class with with just a +Q. Notifications are unobtrusive popups. Minor settings are available in the tray and major settings in Preferences (accessible by icon).

        webOS follows that paradigm closely. Common apps go in the launcher. Less common apps are either in the app drawer or JustType to search for it. Launcher offers direct access, but everything else takes extra steps.

        The primary view for webOS is for window managing. You have a 1D set of apps that you can move into Groups. Closing apps is a simple swipe up. There exists room to add things like side-by-side apps, but most of the devices were never big enough. Notifications are unobtrusive popups. Minor settings are available by clicking on the tray. Major settings are available in the settings view and accessible by icon.

        The reason the webOS UI is so good is because webOS is the desktop paradigm you've been using for years.

        Android and iOS have adopted many of these patterns, but they still feel foreign. Why? because launching apps reigns supreme. Instead of multi-tasking being the default view, their default is showing apps on the home screen. To change tasks, you have to switch into another, secondary mode and then back out of it. Android's and iOS's UI paradigm is upside down. First-class app opening with second-class task managing is bad UI.

        In webOS, users tend to close uncommon apps and leave their common ones running which makes freeing resources the default (good for constrained systems). In iOS or Android, users simply cannot be bothered to use an out-of-the-way, second-class task switcher and don't even realize there are dozens of open apps. Instead iOS/Android app icons become a poor, ad-hoc task manager that is ill-equipped to manage apps and completely unable to kill them.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          android and ios are awkward because both of them try to pretend that there is no difference in an app having been used recently vs. app actually still running in the background. what the designers at google/android who were smoking something strong were thinking was that app developers would make it basically just the same if the app was in one or the other state - of course this can't work when apps/games have loaded 500 megs+ of data and have to work fluidly. as another note those same guys had recommend

        • Android and iOS have adopted many of these patterns, but they still feel foreign. Why? because launching apps reigns supreme. Instead of multi-tasking being the default view, their default is showing apps on the home screen. To change tasks, you have to switch into another, secondary mode and then back out of it. Android's and iOS's UI paradigm is upside down.

          I'd have to disagree. Once the app is running, tapping on it from the home screen is the same as switching to it. So on WebOS, the order of your r

        • Re:Apple & Amiga (Score:5, Informative)

          by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Monday September 04, 2017 @07:32AM (#55136037) Homepage

          Not to mention all those ridiculous "Stop quitting your apps!" articles going around lately chastising users for force quitting apps.

          Yeah sure in iOS 3.0 or whatever the default was to immediately quit all apps when exiting to the home screen, always freeing the memory up for the next app. Not anymore, many apps like Trulia, Facebook, Twitter abuse backgrounding APIs to keep their apps always active even if you kill them and turn off their background update permissions. They may be using scheduled events to relaunch themselves and keep a constant presence in your device memory. It is no longer possible to tell which apps are truly closed and ejected from memory.

          Users sense this in slow app load times and general sluggishness, which reboots temporarily fix. Whether it's Apple or app makers faults, the end result is user hostile and increasing frustration. But yeah, lets chastise the users for killing apps when they can see the speed differences themselves.

          • Not to mention all those ridiculous "Stop quitting your apps!" articles going around lately chastising users for force quitting apps.

            Yeah, it severely pisses me onff on Android that the overwhelming majority of audio player apps think it's perfectly fine to KEEP playing audio even after you've closed the app. So you have audio playing, and NO UI to manage it or shut it off. You can't STOP playing audio, only pause it. And the fact that it is so pervasive throughough the entire gamut of Android apps, I can only presume it's an inherent defect in Android itself.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Android is more like MacOS/webOS example. Obviously you can change the launcher to anything you like, but the default one has the home screen which is similar to the dock and an app tray where less used apps live. The app tray is searchable, or you can use the search box right on the home screen. Minor/common settings are on the swipe down menu, less used ones in the settings screen.

          It's only really iOS that is built around the idea of shitting out every app onto the home screen, as well as a few of the mor

        • The "desktop paradigm", since Windows 95, has been to have tons of icons for apps (and documents) on the desktop. That is what iOS and Android copied.

          You could argue that it's not the optimal paradigm, and I would even agree with you. But it's what the vast majority of users on desktop PCs use and are accustomed to.

      • Re:Apple & Amiga (Score:4, Informative)

        by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Monday September 04, 2017 @04:30AM (#55135683)
        Even Blackberry did this in the playbook and that's getting on a bit. Swipe from the edges, the screen turned into sliding set of cards and you could flip to another app or flick one away to close it.
    • Same old story. Am I the only one who noticed how long it took for Macintosh to support multiple full-screen programs and easy switching between them, which Amiga had already done starting in 1985?

      Thank you for sharing your completely pointless factoid. Many noticed, almost no one cares.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      The thing is, Apple doesn't copy other OS GUI's -- it would never even occur to Apple to look at another OS's GUI, since they don't see any point in imitating some else's mediocre design when they are confident they can come up with something far better in-house.

      The fact that this often leads to them re-inventing the wheel several years after some other company first invented it is a price it seems they are willing to pay :)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The thing is, Apple doesn't copy other OS GUI's -- it would never even occur to Apple to look at another OS's GUI, since they don't see any point in imitating some else's mediocre design when they are confident they can come up with something far better in-house.

        The fact that this often leads to them re-inventing the wheel several years after some other company first invented it is a price it seems they are willing to pay :)

        BS apple steals the hell out of stuff just like everyone else. Their marketing might be better and make you believe different but really you're just not smart enough to notice. Bah sheep bah.

      • by sad_ ( 7868 )

        what the...? the first MacOS was a copy of the Xerox Alto demo Jobs saw, and lets not forget Jobs most famous quote - Good artists copy; great artists steal.
        Sure they add their own stuff to things, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's a copy.

        • by hawk ( 1151 )

          This urban legend is constantly repeats (and Jobs is part of the reason).

          Apple had mockups for the Lisa interface *before* the PARC visit.

          The visit had a very strong influence, but was *NOT* the source of that interface.

          For that matter, the Alto had drawn on the Master's Thesis of one Jeff Raskin (little things like bitmapped displays and pointers)--one of the Lisa/Mac engineer's at apple.

          Anyway, you can find the mockups of the Lisa interface if you search for them I'm sure. I used to have a link, but my l

    • by grub ( 11606 )
      Apple had Switcher in 1985. [folklore.org] It supported full screen programs and switched between them.
      • Apple didn't have a preemptive multitasking OS until they gave up (after spending many millions) trying to make one of their own and just slapped a gui layer on a unix-alike. All through the 90s and long after Microsoft had preemptive multitasking with NT, they hobbled along on their task switching kludge.

    • Same old story. Am I the only one who noticed how long it took for Macintosh to support multiple full-screen programs and easy switching between them, which Amiga had already done starting in 1985?

      True but last time I looked, it was Windows 10 that finally added virtual desktops as a built-in feature pretty recently but let's point an accusing finger at Apple who released spaces in 2009. One of Microsoft's excuses was (and having introduced several fairly clueless 'users' to virtual desktops I can tell you this excuse is not without merit) the increased costs incurred due to clueless users calling into callcentres where a support person then had to blow 45 minutes explaining to each one on the phone

    • Often with a lot of technology flagged as ahead of its time, have features and ideas which are not fully worked out, or are not useful on the existing infrastructure.

      WebOS was just an attempt to give Apple a middle finger, By cramming features, even if no one wanted them, or at expense of core features that people wanted at the time. Then there was that nonsense we they made WebOS to fake that it was iTunes comparable. Thus causing Apple to fix iTunes over and over. Giving WebOS owners spotty coverage fo

  • I kinda miss (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @06:28PM (#55134227)

    Grafitti.

    I was so used to it, I caught myself using it on a whiteboard one time.

    • I recently rented an Audi, and its little navigation knob thing lets you spell out letters on a kind of touchpad. [youtube.com] Despite not having a Palm for the last 15 years, I immediately started writing in Grafitti - which sadly did not work.

  • I still have it in a drawer and i pull it out from time to time. It really is a relic of an unrealized future, way ahead of its time. I have had dozens of smartphones, the Pre Plus is only one i bothered keeping after its useful life.
  • by DatbeDank ( 4580343 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @06:43PM (#55134279)

    Man, talk about a burst of nostalgia.

    My last Palm device was a Treo 650. Before that, I was firmly a PDA user because I didn't want to pay extra for unlimited data when I could use bluetooth and have it billed against my voice plan on Verizon. Boy, those were the days!

    This was all through school. While I was of a nerdier persuasion, between gameboy, nes, and SNES emulators and an assortment of movies on my get this: 1GB SD card that I paid $60 for, people thought I was cool in a sort of Ferris Bueller type of way.

    Handheld devices were so exciting, new, unique, and not an everyday gadget that most people had. I started with a Sony Cleo, migrated to a Tungsten E, fell in love with a Tapwave Zodiac, and then was seduced by the ever more and more compelling hardware devices on the Windows Mobile side.

    Dell's Axim x50v was my first, followed by an x51v that I got Dell to replace for free out of warranty (hehe). Had a Treo 650 for a long time and then I got the nifty HTC xv6700 followed by the even more powerful xv6800. Tried another Windows Mobile phone and got fed up with it.

    I went to a Blackberry after that and held out for as long as I could until Moto's Droid 4 got me into Android. Switched back to Blackberry and i've been using a Keyone ever since.

    I had a really bad warranty experience with Blackberry and I think it's time I just go out and find a no name, keyboardless, boring candy bar smartphone off of ebay for $200. It was hard to justify the expense on my Keyone and the level of BS I went through to get it serviced wasn't worth being Blackberry's CS b!tch again.

    Sigh, those were the days. This must be what car enthusiasts must have felt when cars started becoming computerized monstrosities. Yeah, technology marches on, things become streamlined,and cheaper but you lose the excitement and enthusiasm.

    A lament of a bored hardware nerd.

    • Present renditions of the smart phone killed PDAs like incipient renditions killed the pager.

      Nice post.

    • Not sure if you were aware but BlackBerry doesn't do handsets anymore. The KEYone is made by TCL for BlackBerry Mobile. [blackberrymobile.com] A new company TCL created when they licensed the BlackBerry brand. Now I hear they are resurrecting the Palm brand [qz.com] as well.
    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      you can't buy candybar sized device for 200 off ebay. unless you want to buy some ancient nokia 5800 which would have been the last to be truly that size.

      it's all 16:9 pda now. because thats cheap.
      and screen only without kb. because thats cheap.

      what brand you buy doesn't matter that much now..

  • That's pretty much all there is to it. Ditto Android. All roads lead to WebOS.
    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sit1963nz ( 934837 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @07:54PM (#55134495)
      WebOS copied from PalmOS.
      PalmOS copied from the Newton.

      The Newton was the first PDA, so all roads eventually lead back to Apple.
      • You're forgetting Magic Cap and I had a Sharp, I think, PDA before that.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Magic Cap (from General magic) was created by the original Mac engineers. The project started in Apple and was spun out as a separate company with Apple as the primary investor. Although Apple had an interest in General Magic, they started a new project in-house that produced the Newton.

          General Magic was the Xerox PARC of tablet research. People worked on lots of cool ideas and many of the engineers went on to design future products and/or found new companies. It was an amazing place.

      • WebOS was a blank sheet of paper new design. It was well thought out and things worked seamlessly, albeit a bit slow as they never got the chance to optimize the javascript engine. I'm still using a WebOS phone daily thanks to the dedicated work of the homebrew community to keep apps running. Every time I have to grit my teeth and use Android or iOS I have a "if only" moment. Damn you Leo!

      • by sootman ( 158191 )

        FUCK PALM. If you watch the intro video for the Palm Pre, it is FUCKING DISGUSTING. Yeah, they came up with a couple new things in webOS, but 99% of it was a total rip-off of iOS. The first thing Palm demoed was scrolling a contacts list -- with inertia, and with rubber-banding at the end. https://youtu.be/Dw3cHOEnwTw?t... [youtu.be]

        That was in January 2009. "Tabs" in Safari in iOS ("iPhone OS" at the time) were treated like cards from Day 1. Literally, Day 1. Here's the feature being shown in the iPhone intro video f

  • by exomondo ( 1725132 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @06:49PM (#55134315)

    Everybody in this industry copies ideas from everybody else, we already know this and it has been the case for forever. Apple is not some great inventor of ideas to be called out when they have the audacity to implement a concept that somebody else already implemented. Their original idea of what multitasking should be like was rubbish, so they copied the way that Windows Phone did it and that's a good thing. The control center was a copy of what Android was doing and that's a good thing otherwise you end up with shitty implementations purely as a result of NIH syndrome. Likewise these products copied concepts that Apple came up with.

    Are people really surprised to find out that many of the features being introduced in this industry have been done before? Yes webOS was a decent operating system (and so was Maemo and Meego and Windows Phone and FirefoxOS, etc) but it wasn't successful because the things that made them good weren't disruptive and compelling enough to make people abandon their existing platform. "Oooh you close an app by swiping up on its 'card' instead of pressing the little 'x' on its app icon"...it's nice to have but it isn't going to convince people to switch.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Apple is largely being called out because they have been the quickest to sue others for doing the same.
      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        Apple is largely being called out because they have been the quickest to sue others for doing the same.

        That's the Hateboi Hatorade talking. If Apple was a patent troll, you'd see a thousand more times as many lawsuits from them. When they do sue it's because someone actually copied their shit.

    • Yes webOS was a decent operating system (and so was Maemo and Meego and Windows Phone and FirefoxOS, etc)

      This comment was obviously made by someone who has never tried Meego.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      It's too bad that there can't be "Open GUI Standards Consortium" that all vendors get on board with. They could have a research arm that works with the all the human factors researchers, graphic designers, and actually synthesize some kinds of standards that demonstrably work well.

      Product companies could then implement GUI standards that are the same, and the eggheads in the research arm could design them in a way that allowed some subtle tweaks that didn't break an actual person's ability to use/understand

  • Normally whan a title is a question, the answer is always "nor" or at least "not proven". This is one of the rare cases when it's yes.
  • I did a three day assignment for Palm in 2008. Two contractors and I were supposed to provide user support for the Exchange Server migration. The migration went so smoothly that only one person who had a problem. We spent three whole days doing nothing. I bought a black-and-tan Palm windbreaker for $65 on my last day. I still wear the windbreaker but no one has ever asked me about the Palm logo.
  • may never die.
  • by DeplorableCodeMonkey ( 4828467 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @07:49PM (#55134477)

    it is still an inferior way of switching apps, compared to what you could do on WebOS eight years ago.

    Amiga and BeOS users feel the same way. BB10 was better than Android or iOS in many ways like this too, particularly in integrating so many ways of communicating into a single place with Blackberry Hub.

    • I really wanted a Blackberry Playbook when the tablet business was booming.....The OS and interaction were really well thought out, way better than Android and iOS at the time. Just the integration with other services really let it down.
  • Ummm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sit1963nz ( 934837 )
    Apple Newton, released 1993
    Palm OS released 1996
    WebOS released 1999

    Are we going to say that Palm copied the first PDA from Apple ?
  • by Dr_Marvin_Monroe ( 550052 ) on Sunday September 03, 2017 @09:24PM (#55134725)

    Break down story paragraphs like so:

    WebOS was a really cool OS, that had lots of neat features and ran JavaScript apps.

    WebOS was built on Linux, and if you're knowledgeable, you can update it.

    WebOS had a feature that permitted the user to switch apps by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to see the backgrounded apps. (Note: Android already has a similar feature, accessed by the square icon at screen bottom)

    Apple is going to do something similar, so they must be copying from WebOS, and that validates how advanced WebOS was.

    If Apple were going to start supporting js apps, you might have a case, otherwise not... There are only 4 sides to the screen too, top is notifications, sides for switching desktop screens, so that only leaves the bottom...which they picked... Coincidence?

    • If Apple were going to start supporting js apps, you might have a case, otherwise not...

      The original iPhone 1 was targeted towards web applications using HTML/CSS/Javascript _only_ at release. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone to the world in 2007, he stood up on stage and told the audience that they could use the web technologies they were used to to build apps on Day 1, and nothing else.

      That is still supported. The problem comes in that web apps suck. Developers begged Apple for an iPhone SDK, and the eventually delivered -- when they released the iPhone 3G, a year later in 2008

    • Break down story paragraphs like so:

      WebOS was a really cool OS, that had lots of neat features and ran JavaScript apps.

      WebOS was built on Linux, and if you're knowledgeable, you can update it.

      WebOS had a feature that permitted the user to switch apps by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to see the backgrounded apps. (Note: Android already has a similar feature, accessed by the square icon at screen bottom)

      Apple is going to do something similar, so they must be copying from WebOS, and that validates how advanced WebOS was.

      If Apple were going to start supporting js apps, you might have a case, otherwise not... There are only 4 sides to the screen too, top is notifications, sides for switching desktop screens, so that only leaves the bottom...which they picked... Coincidence?

      Yeah it's nice that WebOS was advanced for it's time (I'm still a bit annoyed Palm devices were never offered or supported by telcos in my country back in the day) but iOS already has a feature that triggers a search menu showing among other things the most frequently used apps when you swipe up. It does not seem to take too big a leap of imagination to add a sweep up gesture to switch apps. There is a limit to how many practical ways you can implement a feature like app switching and the more companies try

    • WebOS had a feature that permitted the user to switch apps by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to see the backgrounded apps. (Note: Android already has a similar feature, accessed by the square icon at screen bottom)

      My two year old BB has that - very very convenient to simply swipe up and get a scrollable collection of thumbnails of all apps.

  • Didn't LG buy WebOS years ago?
    They run it on all their smart TV's

  • Windows 8 lets you swipe up from the bottom of the screen if you have a touch screen. It shows the Alt-Tab popup so you can tap on an application.
    If you don't have a touch screen you can swipe up with 4 fingers on the touch pad of a laptop if it supports 4 or more fingers.

    I don't have any older Windows version to test it on, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was introduced back in Vista.

    Way to go Apple, you've exactly copied a Windows 8 feature!

  • If so I had better click on it to find out more....
  • I had the original Palm Treo, the Pre and Pre plus. Horrible phones. So much so, that when I worked for HP (before they dumped Palm) I missed a crucial incoming call because my phone just couldn't be made to answer. Out of sheer frustration and disgust I threw it from a moving car at 80 MPH. It skidded a little bit then flew apart in a fuzzy ball of broken bits. To this day, I fondly remember that image from my rear-view mirror. If apple picks up some of the bits of WebOS, I hope the call answer logic
  • No.

  • OK, the only phones supporting it are Fairphones -but indeed thanks to the fashion for larger screens, their model 2 managed to be quite on par with the flock, while they designed it from scratch, and every bit inside is dismountable with a simple screwdriver (and of course you can replace the battery)

    They come with Android as default, but the machine supports explicitly Sailfish and Firefox OS.

    And on Sailfish, swiping from the sides is basically the main engine to reach settings and switch apps...
    And, you

  • Honestly, it's kind of dumb that people put such a priority on coming up with completely original ideas and inventions. The history of art and science are full of borrowing ideas from somewhere else. Even great inventions are often just a tweak on an existing idea applied to a new scenario.

    In something like this, the real issue isn't whether the idea is completely original, but whether the execution and implementation is good. When I'm using my phone, I just don't need the GUI to be completely unprecede

  • One of the "much too early for its time" ideas of WebOS was precisely its dependency on JavaScript/CSS/HTML for application development.

    Writing a UI with it was (and is) fine ... but having to write your entire application in JavaScript -- this glorious idea alone caused otherwise decent hardware to be about as powerful as a 286* as soon as you needed to push some heavier math operations (say, for de-/compression).

    For the first year of WebOS's lifecycle, only a select few developers were permitted to write

  • That's not an OS feature. That's a hardware feature.

  • Why yes, yes they do! Most of the Palm team came from Neuton, which Apple started in the 90's. So who copied who again?

  • I was a Palm Pre+ consumer & part-time app dev - loved webOS. When they folded one of the leaders wrote a nice letter to future generations regarding the wonderful creations in webOS and how he hoped those ideas would live on. As each developer at Palm took new jobs - hopefully they'd take the ideas with them.

    I recall when iOS got the "double-tap" Home button that mimicked the swipe-up from webOS. How refreshing it was to switch apps more easily (and later added the flick-up "terminate" feature too)

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