Look-i(Pho)n(e): A Review of the ITV Player iPhone App

  • 7/10/2011 06:54:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones
  • 0 Comments

After a week of banging on about a now-defunct newspaper (just before it relaunches with a new name but without several dozen salaried employees who hadn’t stopped to think why working for a company where union membership is forbidden might be a bad idea), back to telly stuff. Have you ever wanted to carry The Light Channel around in your pocket? Well NOW YOU CAN, with the ITV Player app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Here is our mildly comprehensive review. Of it.

Because we grew up reading a lot of videogame magazines, we’ll score it out of 100. To make things interesting, we’re going to assume a basic score of 50%, then add or subtract points by feature, then arriving at a final score.

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First thing you’ll notice is that on installing the app (a free download +5% with a mere 2.8MB footprint +5%, that works on both handheld and tablet iThings +3%) is that it asks where you live. This is to ensure that you’re in a region where you’re allowed to watch the programmes they have the rights to, which is certainly fair enough. You wouldn’t expect a Hulu app to work in the UK, after all, and no reason why an ITV app should work overseas.

Only one problem here, though. Thanks to ITVplc’s long-running feud with tartan-clad mavericks STV, allow your iThing to detect you’re in Scotland and you’ll be frozen out of the fun –6%. But before you mutter a forlorn “jings! Crivens! Help ma boab!” to yourself, it’s easily circumvented – you don’t have to use the location recognition, you can simply tap in a postcode. The app’s FAQ even tells you how to wipe the details you’ve entered and resubmit a location, so you don’t even need a day trip to Berwick to get it up and running. Phew. +5%. We’re not sure if this means you can easily use the app outside the British Isles by simply tapping in SW1A 2AA as your home address. We’re happy to test it out if anyone wants to buy us a plane fare to, say, Tokyo.

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Into the app itself, and by default you’re taken to a screen where recommended programmes appear in a sidescrolling bar at the top of the screen, Alternatively, selecting a channel brings up a new sidey-scrolley bar beneath the channel icons, allowing you to view the available programmes from the last seven days in reverse-chronological order. Failing that, there’s a scrolley-bar for the most-watched programmes on ITV Player, and one for programmes you’ve watched using the service so far (if any).

It all moves with tremendous smoothness and no slowdown (at least on our 4th gen Touch), and despite initially seeming a bit cumbersome actually works wonderfully well. The programme icons glide about in a wonderfully satisfying manner, and even with promo photographs for each programme in place, there don’t seem to be any pauses for the loading of images once the app has initialised. Lovely. +5%

Of course, if you don’t want to look through the programmes by icon, you can just select the A-Z icon…

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Oh dear.

Yes, despite there being a limited selection of programmes on offer, the clonkingly stupid design decision was made to have the user flick clumsily through each letter of the alphabet to see what’s on offer UNDER THAT LETTER ONLY. While just having one full list would only contain about 60-70 titles, you have to laboriously select each initial letter one at a time, many of which merely report “Sorry, no programmes available”.

This is hugely annoying for anyone wanting to flip through and see everything on offer in (what should be) as brief a time as possible. Guh. –12%

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Still, once you pick a programme things become lovely again. You’re given a screenshot and summary of the episode in question, along with the option of picking a particular episode if it’s a show that had been on more than once during the past week. From there, tap to play, and away you go. Couldn’t ask for more, really. +4%

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Once the pre-programme advert (or trailer for another ITV show) is out of the way (which is, of course, why the app is free), there’s the most minor of pauses for buffering, and you’re into the show you want to watch. Anyone used to the glacial pace of streaming videos from YouTube onto their iThing should be mightily impressed at how speedily the streaming video gets going. No lengthy pauses, no buffering breaks, just the antics of Jeeves & Wooster, Penn & Teller or Phil & Fern playing out BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES. Um, because that’s what television is. We probably didn’t need to capitalise that. +7%

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Controls in-play are few but functional. You can tilt your device to view video on your iThing in landscape or locked-aspect-ratio portrait mode (which might sound a bit silly – why would you want to view it in tinyvision? – but if you’ve got a speaker dock that doesn’t allow your iThing to tilt 90 degrees it’s a must) +3%. It’s a very minor annoyance that you can’t double-tap the screen to force 4:3 video to fill the screen, though –1%. Balls to you, picture-crop snobs!

Handily too, you can use the slider bar at the bottom of the control to skip to any point in the programme, without a noticeable pause in the proceedings for buffering +6%. You can’t skip the adverts, but that’s hardly a surprise. Hey, it’s not as if there’s a test at the end to make sure you’ve actually watched all the adverts. Use that time to scratch yourself or get some crisps or something.

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Using the menus with your iWhatever tilted into landscape mode changes functionality. Select a channel, then slide around to pick a programme from that channel. This isn’t quite as easy to find a programme of your choice, but then you’ve got portrait mode if you want to do that, and it looks absolutely spiffy. More so if you’ve got your iObject plugged into your telly using witchcraft and an overtly expensive cable, we’d wager +3%.

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And, that’s about it. What’s there is beautifully simple, and lets you find what you want in the bare minimum of ‘clicks’ (providing you aren’t using the infernal A-Z option, anyway). An extra-big bonus of +8% to ITV for making this the first TV catch-up app from the main UK broadcasters to actually work on the iPhone and iPod Touch, too. Both the BBC and Channel 4 have had their iPlayer and 4OD apps available for the iPad for quite some time, but seem in less of a hurry to reach the much larger handheld audience (though the BBC have made an Android iPlayer app that works on non-rubbish Android phones, which counts us out then).

The main problem we can honestly say about the app is the range of programming on offer. Yes, yes – a-ha-ha-ha it only gets ITV shows who’d want that eh eh LOL ROLF OMFG etc – but with such a brilliant archive knocking around in dusty cupboards somewhere at ITV, it’d be lovely to more of them appear on the app. As we’ve said before, ITV.com once had a brilliant ‘Classics’ page where visitors could enjoy full episodes of The Army Game, Whicker’s World, Press Gang or Catweazle, which soon made way for a ‘redesigned’ page that instead offered up a bunch of shit with Keith pissing Lemon in it. The nature of the app (and presumably a whole clutch of rights issues) means that only certain shows broadcast in the last seven days can appear, but hey! That’s a good excuse to have a bit more variety on ITV3. Admittedly, we’d never get Bruce’s Big Night, but a few episodes of Spitting Image or (FINALLY) End Of Part One wouldn’t be bad.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Hopefully, as take-up of the app increases, and contract negotiations for repeats account for on-demand viewing, the selection will improve. For now, it’s a pretty damn lovely application. Fingers crossed other broadcasters are taking note of it.

FINAL SCORE: 90%

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