This continues my review of the HP/Palm Pre and webOS. Click below for the previous parts:
Probably the most innovative feature of WebOS is its ability to consolidate contacts and calendar data from multiple web-based sources, a feature that Palm branded as “Synergy”. Currently, the OS can consolidate calendars from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft Exchange and contacts from those same services plus LinkedIn. Calendar entries and contacts entered directly into the phone can be directed to any of those services or to an online Palm Profile that is created during the initial set-up of the phone.
This ability to manage personal data from multiple cloud-based sources is the killer application in WebOS and other platforms (especially Android) are already implementing similar features. At this point, the lack of a similar feature is probably the most glaring omission in Apple’s iOS. It is becoming increasingly uncommon for anyone to have all of their contacts and calendars in a single location and the ability to effectively organize and consolidate it all is becoming vital. Since I’ve had the Pre, it has become my primary calendar and address book. Even when I’m near a desktop or laptop computer, I know that I’m likely to find the most complete version of what I’m looking for on the phone.
While it generally works reasonably well already, the feature is somewhat in the infant stage. HP/Palm especially needs to expand it to pull data from a wider variety of sources. They are still missing a few major services such as MSN and AOL. Native support for more generic formats such as iCal would certainly be a big plus as well. Adding synchronization of tasks and memos is also an obvious need that I’m pretty surprised that they have yet to address. WebOS 2.0 reportedly exposes more of Synergy in its public APIs, which should allow more services to implement their own synchronization.
I also strongly believe that HP/Palm should beef up their own Palm Profile service for those that might prefer not to use a 3rd party service for managing their personal information. At the very least, they should implement the ability to view and manage data stored in the Palm Profile via the web. Currently the data are only accessible on the phone itself. There have also been reports of data loss from the Palm Profile when people have replaced or had to hard-reset their phones and this is something that is simply unacceptable with a cloud-based solution and must not continue.
One other shortcoming that is often cited is that there is no out-of-the-box solution for synchronizing with desktop applications for those that are still generally avoiding storing this kind of information in the cloud. They do provide a tool for doing a one time transfer of data from Microsoft Outlook or the older Palm Desktop (used with the old Palm OS), but it does not establish an ongoing synchronization. I don’t personally feel this is a bad decision, though. There are already third-party solutions available to do this kind of synchronization (admittedly at an extra charge) and I think it probably is wiser for Palm to keep their own focus on the cloud-based approach, which I do think will be the preferred solution for most people.
CalendarIn the calendar application, the default view is a combined one with the events from each source (Exchange, Google, Facebook, etc.) color coded. In the settings, you can select the specific color to use for each source and can also have it remove specific calendars from the combined view. From the main screen, it is also easy to switch to a filtered view that only shows events from any single source.
Google’s calendar supports multiple calendars on a single account and webOS treats each as a separate source with its own color-coding and option to display or not in the combined view. Since Google offers the ability to subscribe to iCal or other types of calendar feeds, this provides a method to pull in events from many calendar systems that aren’t directly supported by Palm. I use TripIt for travel planning and scheduling and was able to subscribe to its calendar feed via Google.
I have found that there are some quirks/bugs in the system, which I hope Palm will work out in time. Sometimes updates made online to a calendar have taken several hours to show up on the Pre and, occasionally, never made it there at all. This problem was particularly common when subscribing to an external calendar source in Google and I eventually ended up dropping the TripIt subscription in favor of manual imports.