Monday, February 23, 2009

TealOS Gives PalmOS Users a Pre Preview

TealOS is a new PalmOS launcher from TealPoint Software which mimics the user interface for the upcoming Palm Pre. I've been playing around with this program on my Palm TX and it is a fairly enjoyable program to use. It also gives people who haven't been lucky enough to be able to play around with an actual Pre—in other words just about anybody who doesn't work for Palm or Sprint and who hasn't been to their Pre preview events—an idea of how the Pre's UI is likely to work under more or less real world conditions.

TealOS looks almost exactly like the Palm Pre smartphone UI as demonstrated by Palm, right down to the flower wallpaper. Like the Pre, it has a quick launch toolbar which by default is mapped to the applications which are typically mapped to PalmOS hard buttons. This makes the quick launch toolbar somewhat redundant but these buttons can be remapped, giving you four extra launch buttons. While this is no big deal on a Treo or a Centro which both have a keyboard in addition to their hard buttons, this is very useful on a Palm TX which only has its four hard buttons. As you launch and switch in between applications, TealOS takes screenshots of them and displays them as "cards" which you can move around and which allow you to quickly switch from one application to another. The cards aren't "live" like the webOS cards on the Pre but they do give you a nice way of keeping track of and organizing your recently used applications. These cards can be "thrown away" with an upwards swipe but I found that this doesn't always work well I'd hope because it requires a fairly vigorous swipe.

But the webOS mimickry doesn't end with there. A fifth button on the quick launch bar also pops up a simple launcher with transparency effects just like on the Palm Pre. TealOS also has the Palm Pre's "Wave" launcher with five remappable buttons which you can bring up in any application. The motion which brings up the wave launcher is surprisingly intuitive and easy to learn. It's even a kind of fun.

On the Palm TX, programs can be launched by either the default PalmOS launcher or through a Favorites application which allows you to create shortcuts to applications or to web links. While TealOS can't create short cuts to web links, a simple utility called Shark Links can. (And quite frankly, the Palm TX's web browser is so primitive that I only used it for Google's excellent mobile RSS Reader even before I upgraded to my T-Mobile G1.) So it's fairly easy for TealOS to take the place of both these programs. And it looks good on the TX's large screen.

While TealOS does a fairly good job of mimicking the Pre's webOS UI, it can't replicate the hardware and it is a bit slow. Some of the graphics are also fairly rough-looking due to the limitations of the PalmOS (the cards don't scale well at all) and older Palm hardware. PalmOS also has no multitasking which limits the usability of its cards. The Palm Pre promises that its cards will always show a live preview of the applications they represent, allowing you for example to monitor a download in your web browser while you manage your e-mail. This is simply impossible to do with the PalmOS.

TealOS works very well as an application launcher and as a preview of Palm's UI for its future devices. Still, I find that the simplicity and speed of McPhling which is just a menu which can be mapped to a hard button or to a swipe across the Graffiti area, makes TealOS less necessary to me. But for people with Pre-envy looking for a nice replacement for the default PalmOS launcher, TealOS is a good fit.

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