If I could take my iPhone and turn it into a mobile TV, I’d be in heaven. That hasn’t happened yet, but the latest version of i.TV — a free application you can find in Apple’s App Store — tries to help. The recently-released Version 1.2 lets you search through your local TV listings, schedule TiVo recordings, and even watch full TV episodes on your phone. Right now, though, i.TV can be difficult to navigate, and its selection of TV episodes could redefine the word “meager.” But when we caught up with i.TV at last week’s Macworld Expo, a representative acknowledged these issues and said the company’s working to resolve them.
Like previous versions, this iteration of i.TV lets you download programming information from your cable provider, so you can browse through or search for shows in a nicely organized, attractive list. You can set up email reminders for certain programs, so you’ll be notified when they’re about to air. And new in this version is the ability to select programs you’d like to record on your networked TiVo DVR; all you have to do is enter your TiVo account username and password and you can schedule recordings with just a couple of taps. In my tests, it worked flawlessly.
Not as flawless is i.TV’s new ability to stream full episodes of TV shows. While the streaming video itself works fine, the selection is sparse. Right now, i.TV offers full episodes of just a few shows, including Frasier, Star Trek and Scrubs, but the company says it’s working on adding more. Its videos come from YouTube, where some of the “full” episodes are available in 10-minute chunks, so you’ll have to watch a few of them to actually see the entire episode. And one of the Scrubs episodes I watched was oddly subtitled in what I believe was German. When we spoke with i.TV last week, Justin Whitaker, the company’s VP of marketing said it is looking to get video content directly from other sources, but said video formatting issues have made it difficult. He did not name any specific content companies.
The selection and the YouTube oddities wouldn’t bother me quite so much if the shows themselves were easier to find. I had to ask the company for help locating them — and the icon that indicates the availability of full episodes is so small that it’s nearly impossible to see. An i.TV representative told me they’re working on making it easier for people to find which full episodes are available.
If TV isn’t your thing, i.TV also offers a collection of movie previews and local show times; this version of the app even helps you buy movie tickets. And, like older versions, it gives you access to your Netflix queue, which you can view and rearrange. If only i.TV let you watch titles from Netflix’s Instant Watch feature, I’d be hooked. Alas, it does not.
Overall, I found i.TV a bit slow; many of its pages seemed to take a long time to load, whether I was connected to a Wi-Fi network or AT&T’s EDGE data network. (I tested it on a first-gen iPhone, which doesn’t support 3G networks.) Plus, this application offers so many features that its interface can feel a bit overstuffed — especially when you factor in the ads it sometimes displays. Despite its flaws, i.TV is a good start on a mobile TV service for the iPhone, and the company says more features are in the works. If it could get video content from sources other than YouTube and make that content easier to find, i.TV could be a killer iPhone app.