Hands On With The Verizon FiOS Mobile App

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Verizon updated its FiOS Mobile application for iPad, which now streams 75 channels of live TV. Unlike some of the mobile experiences Verizon has released in the past, the new application doesn’t require you to install software on your Mac or PC to act as the intermediary  – instead, everything streams directly from the Verizon router in your home.

I was drinking away from the computer last night when the app was first pushed out, but this morning I’ve finally been able to test it thanks to the holiday downtime. The mere fact that I’m writing about the application right now is a testament to its success – it’s keeping the kid busy!

One major caveat before you get too excited: Verizon says the Live TV option will only work with HD set-top boxes. Standard definition set-top boxes are not able to communicate with the remote control application, but of course, upgrading is always an option. You’ll also need a Verizon user ID and password (like what you use to log into HBO GO) as well as FiOS Internet and TV services.

The new app includes the top cable channels across categories like entertainment, info and education, music, family/movies, kids, people and culture, pop culture, sports and women, as well as premium channels (for subscribers) such as HBO, Cinemax, IFC, and Epix. (See the complete list at the bottom of this post).

Note that the FiOS Mobile app doesn’t provide streaming access to local channels like NBC, ABC, CBS or FOX, however. It also won’t include all the channels you have access to on your current FiOS subscription due to licensing concerns, but 75 is a healthy start for this sort of application.

For Parents

Parents who are planning to use the app with the children should take note of the pop-up that appears upon first launch asking if you want to enable parental controls. This feature lets you configure a four-digit PIN to control access to adult content, much like the FiOS set-top box does today. However, setting the PIN may give parents a false sense of security – the PIN alone doesn’t enable the content restrictions they may want. By default, it’s set to “ages 18 or older,” which is the first step down from the “all ages” option.

For younger children, parents will need to go into the Settings section (the bottom right button) and then choose between ages 17+, 13+ or 7+. I was surprised that there wasn’t an option to choose only “TV G” content, especially considering how useful this app would be as an alternative to constantly having kiddie cartoons on, but maybe Verizon is sending American parents a message: toddlers shouldn’t be watching unsupervised TV. Fine then.

Live TV

The Live TV channels are displayed in a grid-like pattern, and you can tap buttons at the top to sort them by channel or filter by category. A search box is also available if you’re looking for something specific. This is arguably an easier interface to use than the TV remote and TV guide on your big screen, but then again, I’m speaking from a mobile-first mindset when I say that. If you’re old-school and prefer a more traditional guide, you can switch over to that section of the app instead. The Live TV guide also lets you swap from the grid view to a list-like view if you choose.

Watching TV

When you tap to watch a show, the video doesn’t immediately go full-screen. Instead, there’s additional information about the program shown below, and off to the left is a scrollable vertical guide that lets you move up and down through the other live TV programs. (See the image at the top of this post). You have to tap a button at the top to move into full-screen mode.

For the most part, this worked well, though I did have one odd experience where I was hearing two audio streams at the same time – one from the channel that was streaming previously, and one from the new channel. Closing the app and reopening it fixed the problem, and it hasn’t occurred since.

No DVR Playback

The app features a Video on Demand section, too, where you can order and stream movies. But one of the bigger disappointments is with the DVR section. Here you can view, manage or cancel your recordings, but you can’t play them back. In terms of user experience, that’s a big miss, as much of the content we watch today is time-shifted, not live. But this isn’t Verizon’s fault necessarily – it’s the content providers who don’t want recorded content available on mobile, generally speaking. Still, since this app is tied to a home’s Wi-Fi network, it seems you could argue that the app isn’t really “mobile” so much as a TV replacement with a smaller screen.

Another section helps you find popular programs if you’re not sure what to watch. This “What’s Hot” section, like the FiOS widget by the same name, shows trending content. Verizon actually uses data from subscriber viewing patterns to generate these recommendations in real-time, as opposed to editorially selecting content, which makes for some interesting discoveries.

Overall, the app is a welcome upgrade for FiOS customers, though there’s still some lag upon loading and using navigation. This is a common complaint with Verizon’s apps, sadly – they tend to be slow. But the new interface and design is a major step up from what Verizon offered previously, and if the app was ever able to stream local channels and DVR content, it could easily go from good to great.

You can download the new app here in iTunes. The iPhone FiOS Mobile Remote app was also upgraded on the 19th, but doesn’t offer streaming.