We’ve seen a lot of buzz about Zeebox lately. It’s a second-screen app that provides discovery, info, sharing, and the usual social TV features. So the big question is: with so many similar domestic apps, do we really need to import another one from the U.K.? What makes Zeebox worth all the hype?
First, the installation. Cute stick-figure drawings of smiling phones and TVs helped me through the brief and painless login process, in which you can link your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, or start from scratch. With the help of my zipcode, Zeebox let me identify my TV provider easily, and took me right to the channel lineup.
Navigation through the listings is smoother than many TV guide apps, with a two-dimensional sliding scroll — up and down the channels, or side-to-side to change your chosen viewing time. A persistent “Now” button along the top lets you return to the present at any time, or you can jump ahead to the next day of the week. The main menu options take up a little precious space at the top of the screen, but this also means that you’re never more than a click away from anything that Zeebox has to offer.
The “Hot” or “TV Picks” tab will give you a long list of featured shows, popular choices, or tweets (by stars, or simply random tweets about shows). Similarly, the “Activity” and “Bookings” tabs give you some insight as to what you and other Zeebox users are watching or plan to watch — there’s also a spot for your friends’ choices (of course, none of mine happen to be using Zeebox yet. Ah, the usual curse of the early adopter). You can invite your friends to join using the settings icon at the top right (the one that looks like three horizontal bars). This is also where you’ll access chat, notifications, your profile info, and general app settings. A quick tip, the “family friendly” setting is turned on by default.
The search function is a bit hit-or-miss. While it does fairly well in predicting what you’re typing to the shows in the lineup, when there’s no match it simply does nothing. Even when I typed in the name of a film that I knew was coming up in a few hours, Zeebox stared blankly at me. And it didn’t win my love when I slid out my Droid’s keyboard and Zeebox refused to work in landscape mode, but I suppose that few users will be bothered by this.
If Zeebox had been the first social TV app that I’d ever tried, I’d be impressed. But so far, it’s simply one of the better ones. Why then is it being hyped and hailed?
Some of the answer may be the way that Zeebox absorbs your choices and your friends’ choices to narrow down its predictions. After only a few selections, I noticed that the hot picks were hotter or at least more interesting to me personally. I could easily see Zeebox beginning to understand me a little bit better after a few days of use. Eventually, new show discovery might be a truly compelling and intuitive process.
A more interesting element may be the way in which providers are partnering with Zeebox. For example, the top cable provider allows Zeebox to work as a remote control for most of its cable boxes — putting Zeebox in a coveted position. Plus, HBO and NBC are already among the growing number of U.S. providers that are integrating interactive Zeebox elements into their programming (polls and games are an ongoing reality for the U.K. version).
Is it ready for prime time? Zeebox is already an impressive social TV app, with a great customizable guide and plenty of info about any given show or film. You get the links, news, social sharing, and purchasing functions already. If your friends are interested in joining you in Zeeboxland, or if you’re an XFINITY subscriber, I’d say it’s a must-have app. Personally, I’ll at least give it a tentative two thumbs-up and hope to see more great things from Zeebox in the future.