At least week's Cable Show, Verizon Wireless chief Dan Mead wasn't shy about hyping the carrier's upcoming Viewdini app for Android as one of its most important initiatives this year. In Mead's own words, the app is "a mobile video portal for aggregation and delivery of mobile content." Essentially, it's supposed to help users quickly discover where they can stream a specific TV show or movie instantly using their handset or tablet. Kristi Crum, executive director of marketing at Verizon Wireless, explains: "Our motivation was to solve for a problem we saw facing our customers, that discovery of video content was very challenging given the fragmented nature of content rights across disparate video distributors."
Starting today, Viewdini can be found in the Google Play Store — so long as you're a Verizon customer with an LTE device, that is. See, the app's other purpose is to showcase the carrier's 4G data speeds and infrastructure. Therefore it's simply not available on 3G-only devices, let alone to subscribers of AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. We're not a fan of this restrictive marketing tactic, but with that out of the way, we've got some initial impressions to share.
A lack of content partners prevents Verizon from delivering on Viewdini's promises
Based off Dan Mead's ambitious description, you'd assume video results from Viewdini would include every streaming service under the sun. Unfortunately, that's not at all the situation here. Netflix, Hulu Plus, mSpot, Verizon Videos, and Comcast Xfinity are the popular options thus far, with web clips from Funny or Die, TED Talks, and other sources also included. You'll quickly notice the absence of major players like Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, and Vudu, although Verizon says it's in talks with a number of video providers. Also, it's important to note that you never actually watch anything from within Viewdini: making a selection will promptly send you to that platform's native app (web clips open in Android's browser by default).
But what about the user experience? It's clear that Viewdini was developed with modern Android UI principles in mind. The menu system adheres to Google's "Holo" layout, placing icons for search (which you'll be using often), bookmarks, and settings in the app's taskbar. Part of the reason that you'll be relying on search so heavily is because of the way Viewdini organizes things. The app's home screens place a particular emphasis on select content, with cover art for TV shows, movies, and web videos plastered across each page.
You'll need to do plenty of swiping
You'll need to do plenty of swiping to navigate through the various categories (Featured, Popular, Trending, New, etc.) and there's no guarantee the content you're hunting for will even appear in these sections. We won't knock Verizon for pushing discoverability, but the experience could stand to be a bit smoother. We noticed some sluggishness on our Galaxy Nexus, and search ultimately proved far more convenient. Users also have the option of bookmarking videos and sharing their favorite content via Facebook, Twitter, email, and SMS.
When you do get around to picking a video, Viewdini offers standard fare like summaries, cast and crew credits, trailers, and user/critic reviews (provided by Metacritic). The "Watch Now" option is the main attraction here, but the aforementioned lack of content partners at launch prevents Verizon from delivering on Viewdini's bold promises.
Our takeaway is this: until the carrier can incorporate all major streaming services into this product, it will inevitably carry minimal appeal for users. As of now, we're left with a nicely-designed Android application that doesn't approach its full potential. Further, we're not sure how it's a good demonstration of LTE when you need to leave the app to actually watch anything. It makes requiring users to have a 4G device all the more ridiculous. Viewdini is a long way from solving the problem of video platform fragmentation, but Verizon could make it much better if the carrier manages to round up the right content.