I had the pleasure of spending part of Wednesday afternoon chatting with yap.TV founder & chief marketing officer Shawn Cunningham. yap.TV is a free social TV guide that initially came out for the iPad last fall, and later for the iPhone and iPod touch. We lightly touched on yap.tv last fall when Steve Wozniak appeared on an episode of The Big Bang Theory. At the time, Woz chatted along with viewers through yap.tv, and it turns out he does more than that. He is an adviser for the app itself.
yap.TV is billed as a second-screen companion, an app that you can utilize while watching your favorite series to connect with like-minded viewers through social media. If you're watching the latest episode of American Idol and want to see what everyone else thinks of the finalists, this app is for you. But, it's not for anyone who wants to avoid spoilers, even though yap.TV has a system that filters tweets by time zone to try and stop this.
Cunningham took me through a hands-on demo of the software. While the first release was solid, the additions for the iPhone and iPod touch have made it better, and the UI has been overhauled to take advantage of the smaller screen. This review focuses on the iPhone version of the app.
When you launch yap.TV, you are prompted to either create a new account or link it to your Facebook or Twitter. I chose to link it to my Twitter profile, but the app crashed a couple of times before I was successful. I'm pleased to say that this is the only time it crashed. After this, you're presented with four tabs: a TV grid, favorites, friends and trends.
The grid is a generic guide featuring national programming. Cunningham said that an update slated to come out in a few weeks will allow you to customize this feed to your local stations. You can flick to go back and forth in 30-minute increments on the grid, or tap the clock button to select a specific time of day or day of the week.
Tapping on a show brings up a new page just for the series. You have the option here to toggle the series as a favorite and see an episode description and the latest relevant tweet. In the top corner, you have an extras tab that will showcase pictures from the series. You also have several new options pertaining to social media surrounding the series: Fans, polls and private parties. This is where the meat of yap.TV is.
When you click on the Fans button, you're taken to a screen featuring all the latest tweets about the series, thanks to a hashtag search. Depending on the series, you also have access to series stars' tweets and, in the case of a show like American Idol, the contestants. Tapping on a tweet will allow you to reply or retweet material, and an in-app browser handles external feeds. A red button allows you to create new tweets and will post them to either Twitter, Facebook, yap's internal social networking platform or any combination of the three.
The yap internal social network allows you to friend people through the app itself and lets you see how recently other users were watching that same series. Polls allow yap users to create polls tailored to a series. You can also see messages just from other yap users, called yaps.
Private parties are an extension of the group chats you see on instant messaging programs. Say I want to speculate on a certain aspect of a TV series and find a friend who feels the same way. We can privately chat with each other through yap.TV as we're watching the series. You can have several of these private parties going on at the same time. Want to discuss Survivor with spoilers in one chat and without spoilers in another? This is perfect for that. Want to participate in American Idol and Glee chats at the same time? You can do that, too.
The strongest aspects of yap.TV are the real-time updates. One aspect of this was shown during Woz's appearance on Big Bang Theory when he was using yap.TV to chat with viewers. Tweets are updated without any prompting at all. When on the friends tab, you can see your friends hop from program to program without a refresh. Programs that are trending duke it out for a place at the top. If yap.TV producers want to add pictures or update award-standings during the program, the app automatically refreshes when these updates happen.
This is what makes yap.TV stand out from its competitors. While there are other social TV programs out there, they mostly involve a viewer checking in, ala Foursquare, and doesn't take it beyond there. There are a few other apps, such as Fox's companion for Bones, that have fresh interactive elements during live broadcasts, but lack the social media aspect.
Right now, the app is limited regarding series you can search for from the guide and favorites to what's currently available on broadcast and cable networks. There are also old favorites. I couldn't find my favorite anime series, Slayers, but I did find Doctor Who, even though no new episodes are currently airing, and the Mary Tyler Moore show, which hasn't been seen outside of local syndication in years. When a series' next airing is scheduled, the time and network will appear on the favorites listing.
The iPad version of the app gives you a larger screen that allows you to rearrange your streams as you prefer. Other than the initial crashing, the main feature I find yap.TV lacking is the ability to tap at the top of the screen to leap back to the top of the page.
yap.TV is great for chatting with like-minded people about series that you enjoy. It's at its best when you're watching a live program, though DVR aficionados and even those of us catching up on a backlog via Netflix or Hulu will find it useful as well. It's free, and there are no ads. If you enjoy chatting about what's on TV, yap.TV is worth a spot on your iDevice.