Can you hear me now? Apps should work as advertised

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTV

There was a long-running (probably too long for some mobile operators) joke that mobile telephones made bad service acceptable, what with their penchant to drop calls or just offer annoying on-again-off-again connectivity.

While those primarily in the wireline space were laughing, the mobile operators were grinding their teeth and trying to prove that their service was no hobbyist joke. The most blatant example of that movement was Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) annoying little man who wandered around asking "Can you hear me now?" As catch phrases go, it wasn't bad. As a way to make the point that Verizon Wireless was a reliable service, it was OK. As something anyone wanted to see six or seven times a night while watching TV, it was about as welcome as a toothache without whiskey.

My experience with an app--Viggle, to be specific--reminded me of those long-ago days and made me wonder whether interactive TV applications are not just newer versions of the old mobile phone conundrum.

I'm not by any means an early adopter. The only thing I fast-follow is my golf partner when he scurries forth to find a shot he's hit 30 yards past my ball in the fairway. If I have to be described, I would be a moderately paced techno-geek who will chase after something new if there's something in it for me.

In short, I Viggle because it offers me the opportunity to get rewards for what I like to do: watch television. The problem is, it's often tough to get those rewards, and, annoyingly, it's not always my fault.

Part of the problem with any new TV watching app is residential Wi-Fi. Despite using two Wi-Fi routers and an extender, I much too often receive a message on my tablet or smartphone telling me I have "no Wi-Fi connectivity." Without Wi-Fi, my Verizon Wireless phone reverts to 3G (and that's another story) and things get gummier than a piece of licorice left out on the patio.

My Wi-Fi connectivity woes have led me to watch as much TV as I can in hopes of earning Viggle points to get a deep discount at Best Buy on a new, more powerful Wi-Fi router so that--and the irony is not lost on me here--I can better access Viggle.

The thing that steams my clams, though, is that even when I can access Viggle, I can't always access Viggle features that deliver points. Take last Sunday's debacle of a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers, where I hoped to combine two efforts--watching the game and playing along with Viggle's Fantasy MyGuy app--to grab a ton of points to put toward Best Buy gift certificates. About halfway through the second quarter, as it became clear that the Eagles are nothing special, it became even clearer that MyGuy didn't have my back.

The app went down, came back, went down and, in the end, cost me a bundle of points I was accruing by betting against my hometown team's defense. I did what any red-blooded Philadelphia football fan would do: I booed the Eagles on the screen and complained to Viggle on the Internet.  

I received a note from Viggle Support stating: "We are aware that MyGuy is not working on some Android devices and older OS versions. Over the last week, we have been using the device and OS version data that you have been providing us to research this problem. There is a chance that MyGuy will not be supported on your device or OS version."

The device, it might be noted, is the latest generation Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone. The OS is Android, which, I believe, is becoming more popular than iOS.

The question I have for not just Viggle, but also for others who are offering reward enticements to use their apps, is whether they can hear the sound of a disappointed audience that could, in the end, push their apps--and others in the fledgling interactive TV rewards space--into a corner niche occupied only by persistent early adopters who, like the first cell phone users, are willing to put up with the hassle for the sometimes rewards.--Jim