What’s amazing about Vinson? It’s the single best app for TV viewing that you can get your hands on. What’s frustrating? There just isn’t much to see yet.
Vinson is a white-label app available for iOS devices that promises to deliver live TV and social integration to mobile devices. It’s free to install and all of its features are ready to go — this is no Beta test. However, before you get too excited, keep in mind that Vinson is still lacking partnerships with TV providers (well, other than the Belgian “Stievie” project, which obviously won’t be of too much interest to most U.S. users). This all means that, for now, your actual viewing choices are very limited.
The early hype on the Vinson app is notable in its lack of acknowledgement for how much choice we already have in TV apps. You’d never know from the Vinson coverage that the iOS and Android markets are full of Social TV and streaming video apps. However, this seeming myopia does highlight what Vinson brings more of to the table: unprecedented focus on, and control of, live TV viewing.
Instead of the bland player controls that you’ll find in the vast majority of video apps, Vinson offers a sleek and swipe-optimized interface that lets your iPad do what it does best, instead of trying to shoehorn function into the form. Everything is so intuitive and smooth that the learning curve is minimal; a few minutes with Vinson and your other video apps will feel like they’re relics from a decade ago. A thumb-friendly circular “remote control” wheel pops up while viewing, while the social feed slides in and out as needed — in both cases, allowing for uninterrupted viewing of the full-size TV image.
The guide is also significantly different from the usual arrangement — and by that I mean exactly opposite. Most apps copy the tried-and-true program guide design that we’ve seen on every cable and satellite provider since the dawn of TV. Each channel has its own row, and time moves from left to right. Not Vinson; channels are now on the horizontal axis, and times arranged vertically. This simple 90-degree shift allows the live TV screen to continue to play in a smaller pane, picture-in-picture style — while you simultaneously navigate the guide or bring up your extended social options.
Vinson doesn’t stop at live TV. The functionality embraces Video on Demand as well as PVR time-shifting capabilities. From the main screen, the timeline can be expanded to provide a “chapter snapshot” for specific moments of the show, in addition to basic pause and resume options. There’s also a catalog menu for Video on Demand, which can be used for everything from video clips to full episodes and films. Although we can only speculate at this point, Vinson could also easily be adapted to schedule, manage, and playback remotely stored video, such as your home DVR recordings — given the right provider.
And, of course, there’s Social. In the app world, you generally have to choose between a video player and a “second screen” social app that accompanies rather than replaces your big screen. Sharing and communicating is too often a jarring multi-tasking process. But Vinson shows that your iPad should be able to satisfy both needs at once — and, with features such as an integrated social map, Vinson also shows that you need not be limited to basic social features.
The current drawback of Vinson is the same as any cutting edge advance: there is just not much content. There’s enough to see what Vinson can do, but not enough to make it a really compelling app for the TV viewer just yet. Look at it for what it could be, and anyone who pushed through the early days of scanty HD programming remembers what that’s like. But all it will take is one or two providers to recognize what Vinson has to offer. With Vinson’s breathtakingly fluid and intuitive approach, the iPad could easily rival your big screen to become your preferred method for watching TV.