August 15, 2012
Review: Verizon’s Viewdini – Connect The Dots
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
With the onset of the iPad, people began clamoring for functionality they may have never asked for in the past. Sure, no one would have denied how great it would have been to watch TV from nearly anywhere without having to cart around several boxes, wires and an actual TV, but somehow this feat just seemed a bit too far out of reach. Now, this sort of luxury seems almost commonplace, and without it, these same people feel somewhat cheated out of the functionality of their device.
On Tuesday, Verizon released an iOS app called Viewdini which allows FiOS subscribers to search and navigate available streaming content for their devices, from sources such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, or other Internet sources. In addition, the app gives users the choice to purchase content from Apple´s own iTunes store. With this app, users can browse or search available content, such as Breaking Bad episodes or Jerry Seinfeld´s latest project, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and are presented with a list of ways they could be viewing the content on their device.
In fact, after using the app for a few minutes, I quickly found out the best use case for this app is if you know exactly what you want to watch and your normal pipeline for this material is otherwise engaged. If you´re in the mood to browse through a list of available content, you´d better be in a comfortable position.
This isn´t necessarily to say the app is packed full of content. It is, of course, but the layout and design of the app feels like the developers backed up a truck full of mix-matched content and dumped it into the app with very little organization or separation.
Upon first launching of the app, you´re presented with the “Featured Content” screen, wherein three-fourths of the show´s corresponding image is visible. The rest fades away into a shadow and 15 little dots. The 15 dots are, of course, different screen tiles you can swipe left or right to navigate through. This means, if you want to just browse around and see what´s available, like I did, you will have to swipe left 15 times amongst vague and unsatisfying titles. In fact, each sort of content, Movies, TV Shows and web shows gets dumped into 4 different categories. Movies, for instance, are either labeled as “Featured,” “Popular,” “New,” or “Trending.”
The top 3 movies listed in the “Popular” tab: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America and Cars 2, are also listed in the “Trending” tab. I´ve yet to fully comprehend what must be extreme subtleties between the definitions of Popular and Trending, Featured and New.
Should you decide you want to watch one of these movies, Like Cars 2, a tap of the corresponding image takes you to another screen, replete with a “Metascore,” a User Score, a brief synopsis of the movie and, surprise, even more dots.
Swiping through these screens takes you to yet another screen where you can either purchase the movie on iTunes or watch it via FiOS On Demand FlexView. Of course, if you want to watch it via the app, you´ll be asked to download yet another app, Verizon Media Manager. From here, you should be able to watch the movie, assuming you´ve presented the second app with your proper credentials as proof that you´ve paid for the service elsewhere. As FiOS isn´t available in my area, I´m not entirely certain there aren´t any other hurdles you must leap through to get to your content.
Oh, and what of those other 4 screens available to you once you´ve tapped on your content of choice? Swiping left, you´re given even more information about the content, such as Cast & Crew information, even more ratings, clips and related content.
Similarly, when I tried to watch an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I was asked to download another free app called “Crackle.” Once Crackle was downloaded and installed, I had to go back to Viewdini, find the episode I wanted, tap it, wait for the app to throw me into Crackle, where I was finally able to watch the content.
It should be said, of course, that if you want to watch some of this web content on your iPad, you can simply visit the website yourself and have an even better experience, rather than trying to make sense of endless tiles, screens and extra downloads.
In trying to view even more content, I made my way back to the home screen to check out if any episodes of Breaking Bad were available to me. I made my way to the Featured Content section, tapped Breaking Bad, and was brought to a description page. Though I had an option to “Share” this page? show? vote of approval? with my Facebook and Twitter friends or Bookmark it for later – probably a very good choice for anyone who decides to ever use this app twice – I had no option to watch the show immediately.
No, I had to swipe left once more in order to see the ratings for each episode. Here, I could either tap an episode and be sent to yet another screen where I was given the option to watch that particular episode, or I could just swipe left once more and be presented with no way to actually watch the app in the screen, just a way to buy the episode through iTunes.
One more frustrating aspect of this app: Once you´re completely ensconced in one of the 15 repetitively titled screens, there is no easy way to get back to square one, should you feel the need. So, say you´re stuck on screen 14 but want to get back to Featured Content, you´ll be stuck swiping right at least 28 times. I say 28 because the app feedback is lacking at best. You can´t even try to carefully tap one of the dots to jump to a screen, a feature built into nearly every other iOS app I´ve ever encountered.
In the end, this app doesn´t necessarily give users the ability to stream content so much as it taunt the user into thinking they´ll be able to access their content from the app.
To be fair, the app description is very clever about saying it´s only to be used as a search-based app rather than a streaming one.
“Viewdini takes the guesswork out of what content is available across services,” reads the app description.
The app is free, sure, but I found it to be mostly useless in my brief testing. Chances are, if you want to watch shows on your iPad or stream them to your TV via the Apple TV, you already know where to find them and have these other apps installed on your device. This app does nothing more than place an incredibly murky UI and painful design choices in between you and the content you´re probably already watching. I´m also a little concerned that there will be those who download this app and assume they´ll be able to stream content from within. For this group, this app will simply add undue confusion and strain to an otherwise simple and straightforward process.