Winning app for the HP TouchPad

HP webOS TouchPad app


I went along with Andrea and Sym to The Guardian to join a hack day for HP’s new TouchPad tablet – an interesting alternative to the iPad that uses web standard technologies for creating native mobile applications.

We won the competition(!) with a prototype app for exploring live web content, such as news, reviews and photos, about any place on earth. (See all the projects from the event).

The app we produced is part magazine, part feed reader and lets you swipe and slide the magazine in any direction to shift the geographical location that the magazine’s content represents.

You can check it out by playing with the browser-based demo. (Note, this is utterly non-optimised at the moment and has only been tested in Chrome and Firefox).

What it does

Starting at the reader’s current location (imagine that you are travelling or visiting somewhere new), a magazine-style page of content is pulled in for that place (e.g. a one mile square centred on Kings Cross, London). The reader can then slide the page in any of eight compass directions (north, east, south, west, nw, ne, sw, se), to re-centre the magazine at that new location (e.g. a one mile square centred on Hillingdon, London). Content is then pulled in for the location represented by the new position.

We’ve divided the world into a grid of cells, and the user can slide between any of the cells to view the content that they each contain. Content is linked through to its original source on the web, e.g. a travel article from The Guardian, or a note on the history of a place from Wikipedia.

We think that the format is ideally suited to a tablet like the TouchPad: location-aware, tactile navigation, relevant material for reading and exploring while on the move. The magazine might be used to explore content around a particular part of the world, or to follow each step along a journey.

Working in the same familiar way as the “slippy map” of Google Maps, we provide an intuitive mechanism for browsing, though we’ve never seen something quite like our app before.

Building for the TouchPad

Although there were some rough edges, all in all, it was a refreshing experience to develop for a mobile device that uses native web technologies (HTML, JavaScript and CSS). The app was put together in a normal desktop browser and, with the TouchPad connected via a USB cable, it was simply pushed down to the device for testing.

So the application is portable – it can work in a desktop or mobile browser, and it could be wrapped up to be used on other, non-web platforms like the iPhone, iPad and Android.


We used Node.js and Django Python outside of the device to pull in the content, process it and compile it down into JSON data, to be consumed by the app. The TouchPad’s operating system, webOS, actually allows apps to include JavaScript-based, Node.js services, to run a tiny server on each device. We might want to use this, for example, to continually process and serve content to the front-end.

We rolled our own JavaScript, opting to remove the considerable benefits that webOS provides in the form of Enyo, an app components framework. Without Enyo, we are left with just a basic WebKit shell, hooked into the operating system. We used iScroll, a touch-based scrolling library, to assist with user interactions.

Ideas for taking the project forward

We would love to extend the app to use a full global grid of content, allowing zooming in and out from hyperlocal to country-wide scales, introduce clumping of content into cities and notable locations, allow layers of content types that can be switched on or off, and include user-curated and user-generated material. The concept, its focus, the look and feel, and the app’s behaviour will all need some love and care, but we think it has potential.

What do you think? Would you use it?

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One CommentRSS Feed

  1. I really like this idea. I think it’s very useful but possibly even more so on a smartphone.
    One idea I had was to use the compass api so orientate the app so that rather than being north, south etc, the 8 panels are ahead of you, behind you etc.

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