Make the most of your second screen

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It’s the new TV ritual: We sit in front of the TV, our iPhone or iPad in hand, busily surfing or texting, both while the show is playing and during commercial breaks. Instead of distracting us from what we’re watching, our second screens enhance our enjoyment.

Second-screen apps, or social TV apps, help you find new shows or movies, simplify the task of locating streaming content, and connect you with other viewers who like the same programs that you do. I looked at five popular second-screen iOS apps (BuddyTV, GetGlue, Into_Now, Miso, and TV Guide Mobile) to see which ones handled certain tasks best. Each app seemed to have one stand-out feature that distinguished it from the others, so I assigned categories for those features and picked the winner in each category. Think of it as the Emmy Awards for second-screen apps.

Best show discovery

Nominees: BuddyTV, GetGlue, and TV Guide Mobile.

With all of the sources of entertainment available these days, the question isn't how do you find out what’s on? Instead, it’s how can you efficiently locate what you want to watch? BuddyTV, GetGlue, and TV Guide Mobile take different approaches to TV listings—and not all of them worked equally well.

TV Guide Mobile’s familiar grid list view is still the best way to see everything that’s on.

TV Guide Mobile adopts the traditional grid approach to displaying what’s on, but it augments that arrangement with its Watchlist tab (which lists when your favorite shows will be on next) and its New Tonight tab. I liked the New Tonight option because it helped me find shows that I might not have known about. Since the app sorts the list by how many people are planning to watch each program, the most popular shows appear first.

GetGlue limits its list to shows that you’ve liked and to other shows that the app recommends based on your likes. This is a good option if multiple viewing choices often overwhelm you. Beyond that, though, the app won’t do much to help you find new options. BuddyTV creates a Watch List based on shows that you’ve liked in the past, but it doesn’t recommend similar shows, and it consistently crashed when I tried to access its TV listings. However, version 2.6.1 of BuddyTV fixes the issues with Listing view causing the app to crash.

For saving favorite content, finding a list of when programs will air, and discovering new shows, the winner is clear.

The second-screen award goes to: TV Guide Mobile ().

Best for finding streaming options

Nominees: BuddyTV, GetGlue, and TV Guide Mobile.

Since the universe of entertainment options doesn’t end with what traditional TV networks broadcast, second-screen apps should help you discover everything that’s available to you through online video-streaming services.

TV Guide Mobile makes it easy to get to many streaming options.

TV Guide Mobile lists the largest number of options, including iTunes, ABC, Crackle, HBO Go, HuluPlus, iTunes, and YouTube, and the company says that it will add more in future app updates. I hope so, because the absence of Netflix coverage hurts its offerings. GetGlue lists shows on Amazon, iTunes and Netflix, but that’s the extent of its coverage. GetGlue's special advantage is that it lists all of the options of those three, where the video is available; TV Guide lists only one or two options. BuddyTV shows streaming options for Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix, and it also indicates whether the show or movie is currently on TV, in case you’d rather see it that way.

TV Guide sends you directly to the app where you can watch, buy, or rent a video. GetGlue does the same for Amazon and iTunes, but its Netflix link sends you to a webpage for the video instead of launching the Netflix app. BuddyTV indicates that it will send you to Amazon, iTunes, or Netflix, but that function didn’t work in my testing. (However, the Netflix app now launches properly after version 2.6.1 was released.)

The second-screen award goes to: TV Guide Mobile ().

Best social features

Nominees: GetGlue, Into_Now, and Miso.

Like many other things in life, TV shows are best enjoyed with others—but that doesn’t mean that those others need to be in the same room with you. Twitter has become the default place to share thoughts on live TV, but second-screen apps provide a more focused venue.

GetGlue’s active community gives it the advantage in social features.

All of the second-screen apps that I looked at offer some social features, but the most promising of them go beyond the basic check-in and post-to-Facebook options. GetGlue creates a feed for each show where you can post a new comment and comment on posts made by other users. Into_Now lets you mark your comment as a show spoiler—a great feature that spares viewers who are just starting to watch a show—or who have fallen an episode or two behind—from having surprises ruined. Both Into_Now and Miso let you check in and comment on specific episodes—a feature that other second-screen apps should adopt.

But social features are only as good as the community that uses them, and no second-screen community is as large and engaged as GetGlue. Popular shows often have thousands of people checked in. For live programs, such as the recent Democratic National Convention, the result is in active conversations in real time. With other apps, you see a lot of single comments about a show—or no comments at all. Though GetGlue could learn some things from Into_Now and Miso, numbers win in this game.

The second-screen award goes to: GetGlue().

Best innovation

Nominees: Into_Now and Miso.

Create an instant meme with Into_Now’s CapIt feature: take a screen from the episode you’re watching and add some text over it.

Two second-screen apps have features that demonstrate how using technology can improve your TV viewing experience.

Miso’s SideShow () brings extra content to the viewing experience for some shows. A SideShow features comments from other viewers, news about the show, polls, and links to related articles. Subscribers to DirecTV or AT&T U-verse can sync Miso so that the SideShow advances in sync with the show as it plays. Unfortunately, SideShows are available only through the iPhone and iPod touch version of the app; iPad users are left out. But I had fun on the guided tour of a show, and I liked answering polls to see what others thought. Miso also turns TV watching into a competitive sport, awarding you points for each check-in. If you get enough points, you unlock achievement badges—another way to make watching TV more fun.

Miso’s SideShow brings additional content and polls to some shows.

Into_Now can detect which show you are watching without your having to check-in. It uses the audio of the show you’re currently watching to figure out which show and episode is playing. This feature is rather uncanny—it worked every time I tried it, whether the program in question was live or was a DVR recording. You can also use the app to capture a screen from a show and write a comment on it. The opportunities for amusement seem endless.

The second-screen award goes to: Into_Now ().

Best all around

Nominees: GetGlue, Into_Now, and TV Guide Mobile.

There’s no clear winner for best overall second-screen app, because no single app does everything we’d like to be able to add to our viewing experience.

TV Guide is great for finding shows; GetGlue has the most active community; and Into_Now includes innovations that others should adopt.

For now, your best strategy is to use the one that most closely matches the way you watch TV, and to wait for the next generation of second-screen apps to arrive. Given what is already available, you can expect more innovation, more users, and more options.

No second-screen award given for best all-around app.

Second screen apps features

 TV listingsRecommendationsStreamingCheck inChat / Comment
BuddyTV Y   Y Y Y
GetGlue   Y Y Y Y
Into_Now     Y Y Y
Miso       Y Y
TV Guide Mobile Y   Y Y  

Editor's note: This article was updated on October 9 at 10:30 PT to address some issues with the BuddyTV app that have been fixed with the app's latest update.

This story, "Make the most of your second screen" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • TV Guide TV Guide Mobile for iOS

  • Generic Company Place Holder GetGlue for iPad

  • BuddyTV Guide

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