Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Battle of the FOX iPhone applications: House versus Glee

In these early-ish days of cell phone applications, it’s easy to give points just for showing up. Remember the birth of the world wide web when sites were little more than the company brochure slapped online? If you had one, though – however rudimentary or animated-GIF-encrusted – you were part of a vanguard that revolutionized the Internet.

TV tie-in iPhone applications are still rare. Some day, House and Glee will be proud to be the animated GIFs of the app age. Today, they are the leading edge.

InHouse (Free)

This app looks cool, and has some nice touches, but after using it for a few weeks it seems as though it was rushed out the door with only hard-core fans in mind. That said, I’m not one anymore, yet it caters to the behind-the-scenes geek and former rabid fan in me.

Fresh episode-specific content is released Mondays at 8 pm to coincide with the show’s airtime. Fun and/or informative video interviews are offered in the Writers Room and Media Room (the latter featuring actors and crew members), and are the main source of my affection for this app. Actually, the app had me at Writers Room – I’m fascinated by that process and my fondest memories of my time writing about House are of interviewing the writers.

I enjoy some of the backstage photos under Dark Room, but many of them mean nothing to me. That non-actor walking on the studio lot? Is she a key grip? Gaffer? Other title I only know from watching credits?

The Music Room is slightly odd. Instead of a track listing, there is minimal information and an iTunes link to one or more “music considered for scenes” pages. If you actually want to know what song is playing when, I guess you can use Shazam (aka Best Application Ever).

[Alex Solether, Publicity & New Media director's assistant for House, told me via Twitter that they’re looking into implementing photo captions and in-episode music, so perhaps they should have launched without the not-so-meaningful content.]

Free Clinic offers giveaways to US residents, and the Houseisms section is a small selection of quotes (presented via the most awkward navigation possible, but it looks cool).

Star Hugh Laurie is noticeably absent so far other than vocal snippets used to introduce each app section. (Writers Room = “Schmucks with laptops.” And while those bits are funny the first time, thankfully the app allows you to turn them off.) It’s not surprising that he’s got other things to do, but star power or the wow factor is what draws less-than-devout fans to content. I’m possibly not in the majority in thinking that writers are also stars of a show, or that interviews are a wow item.

Weekly “appisodes” launch May 24 when the show is on summer hiatus. Centred around Nurse Jeffrey (also known as Who?), the three-minute episodes promise to “explore the world of the hospital that exists beyond the regular characters.” Again, likely only die-hard fans – and not all of those – will end up watching Houseless House (or more to the point, No-Characters-You’ll-Recognize House).

More importantly, there’s nothing that uses iPhone functionality to make this a good match of form and function. There’s no social networking tie-ins, no community building, no user interaction. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t fit perfectly on fox.com, which has all those nifty things. And hey, that way iPhone users could have browsed a mobile site along with those plebeians who use Android devices or BlackBerries or – god help them – computers.

Glee (99 cents)

I almost called foul when I saw this was a paid app – come on, it’s marketing for a TV show – but it is cheap and you get a fun product beyond the marketing tie-in, so I’ve changed my tune. Pun intended.

The app has one simple purpose: karaoke. It allows you to sing along with songs from the Glee soundtrack. It’s preloaded with a few and new ones to purchase are added weekly. And just like those crazy kids on the show, your voice will benefit from the built-in pitch correction.

You can share your recording with the world, connect to Facebook, join a club of fellow users, or realize that no human ears should be subjected to your singing voice and delete. The best part? Listening to recordings by people from around the world who didn’t have the sense to pick that last option.

I’m not a gadget freak or an Apple disciple, but I got an iPhone because it was the fun choice. The Glee app understands fun. Not my kind of fun, mind you, but it’s a terrific blend of game, social networking, and show awareness … that nonetheless makes me want to throw my iPhone off the balcony. But that’s me. And if the audience for the House app is House freaks, the audience for the Glee app is Gleeks plus anyone who might want to sing karaoke. I’ve seen those inexplicably packed bars.

Glee gets major points off for offending my grammar geek sensibilities with a home page massacre of the “sing” past participle. (“Have you sang duet with Finn yet?” No but I have SUNG a duet with Finn.) But that’s not really a reason to withhold your 99 cents. I guess.

And the winner is …

Which app will I use the most? InHouse, no question. That’s an idiosyncratic choice. Should you get it? It’s free; if you don’t like it I’m sure they’ll give you your money back. There’s bound to be something that will catch your interest, though I’d put money on this app seeming quaint in the not too distant future, like those basically-a-brochure websites.

I sing horribly and don’t enjoy listening to others sing horribly and will never again use any karaoke-like app. However, for best use of the medium and reaching out to an audience beyond the highly devoted, I gotta go with Glee.