Review: Television for iPhone
Network limitations somewhat stymie what the iPhone and iPod touch can do with video, but that hasn’t prevented developers from trying to harness the power of moving pictures on the devices. Mayakama.com’s Television is a video aggregator that lets you watch 61 news (and news-ish) programs on more than 30 channels, including CNN, NBC, the Associated Press, and Cnet, as well as several foreign news services. The app also includes videos from the Onion, College Humor TV, VH1, and MTV. The app’s successes and limitations show just how far developers have to go before getting video right.
First and foremost, Television is not “live.” The app requires a working Wi-Fi connection; it does not function on a 3G network. This would seem to be a strange limitation. After all, OrbLive, another video-playing app, runs live video on Wi-Fi and 3G. But OrbLive is bedeviled with speed issues—undermined by the constraints of the network.
Television does serve a useful purpose as a reasonably well-organized clearinghouse for TV news. The interface is straightforward. You launch the app and scroll through a list of TV channels. Tap a channel and up pops a list of programs. Tap the program you want to watch and the video will launch automatically.
The app doesn’t actually host any videos, but rather redirects you to other sites where the videos live. Video-on-demand in this context means whatever has been uploaded recently, and that’s assuming the videos are compatible with the application. Some of the material might even be on YouTube, a built-in app that most people already have installed on their iPhone or iPod touch. In short, Television is at the mercy of other people’s quality control.
Some channels work better than others on Television. The Onion works brilliantly, but NBC is a total loss: Neither Meet the Press nor the Nightly News is “supported video,” which is an odd error message to receive. Doesn’t anybody check those things? Apparently not. The developer’s App Store product page offers a lengthy disclaimer about what videos may or may not work. What was that about quality control again?
The app needs to be more customizable, too. You cannot organize the channels according to your favorites. I would like to be able to move some of the channels around and even eliminate a few. For example, I can conceive of nothing that MTV produces that I would possibly want to watch. And yet there it is, fixed in the fifth position, high above CNBC, Comedy Central, National Geographic, and the BBC.
As a content aggregator, Television does respectable yeoman’s work. True video-on-demand would give users more choice, of course. But as long as the wireless-network limits what content providers can offer, users may have to live with rabbit-ears technology in an high-def world.
The application is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.1 software update.
[Ben Boychuk is a freelance writer and columnist in Rialto, Calif.]