We’ve been hearing a lot of praise for the recently released HBO app for the iPhone lately, with some considering it to be far superior to any other TV network’s iPhone app. That’s a mighty big statement, especially when HBO’s main competitor in cable networks, Showtime, launched its app almost three months ago.

The two networks compete for many of the same viewers, and many couch potatoes–myself included–don’t devote themselves to one network or the other. How could you when there are gems like the vampire-fad series True Blood on HBO and Dexter, the series chronicling the troubles of an everyday serial killer, on Showtime? It’s simply impossible to pick between the two networks.

But how do the dueling network’s apps compare? The networks may not be able to beat each other, but can one network’s app beat out the other? Time for an app showdown.

app-showdown

HBO

Price: FREE

HBO

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Showtime

Price: FREE

Showtime

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Design/Interface

HBO: Right off the bat, this app gives you a feeling of familiarity with its opening screen, that scrambled TV screen/noise with the HBO logo fading in. Instead of creating just another app, HBO took the high road of continuing its brand for the first crack at an iPhone app. The design for this app is completely unique, yet user-friendly in every way. Instead of scrolling through content, users swipe and flip through full-screen images to create more of a full user experience. Once you’ve entered the page for a show, the design is still sleek and easy-to-use, with a film-strip layout and style. TV wishes it could look this good.

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Showtime: No bells or whistles here, just your straightforward iPhone app design. The home screen of the app almost looks like an ad you’d be privy to skip over, but you can actually access your favorite shows from here. Use the traditional app method of scrolling and tapping the tabs at the bottom of the screen to access the different features. There isn’t really anything in the design or interface to distinguish this app from any other, but its simplicity is appreciated. At least it leads you to believe it will be less likely to crash and a bit easier to navigate than some others that focus more on design and less on user-friendliness.

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Winner:

HBO
Showtime

There isn’t anything wrong with the Showtime app design, per se. There’s just so much right with HBO’s. It’s distinctive, easy to use, and incredibly stylish. First round goes to HBO!


Videos

HBO: The selection of videos for each show is endless, as most of the available shows have previews for any episode, as well as video extras like Q&As with the cast. I seldom had issues with getting the videos to upload, and they actually uploaded quickly, less than 15 seconds usually. The video quality is about as good as you’re going to get on an iPhone 3G, even though the sound quality could probably be improved upon fairly easily. It’s a minor detail, but I loved flipping through the available videos, which are viewed in a filmstrip format, with the option to get the details about the video first or play it directly from the index. You can also see how long each video is, which could come in handy when you’re in a time crunch.

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Showtime: Each show has preview videos for each episode in the series, and some have video extras, like interviews with cast members. You can scroll through the available videos either by tap the video tab to see them sorted by date added, or you can check out the shows tab to see videos sorted by series. You can see some teaser text next to the thumbnail of the video to get a description, but it’s cut off midway through. Once you tap on the video thumbnail, it opens up directly into the streaming video; so you’re basically out of luck if you’re looking for the description before viewing.

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I could deal with most of this if the videos were high quality enough without any annoyances, but there’s one big, huge problem: advertisements. Yes, the same advertisement plays before each video, which might explain why it sometimes takes a video quite a bit to load. While some of the videos are substantially long (like an 11-minute-long Q&A with two Dexter actors), most are less than two minutes and should conceivably take less than 20 seconds to load.

Winner:

HBO
Showtime

Video quality aside (the two apps are pretty much neck and neck on that front), the advertisements in the Showtime apps are completely unnecessary and very distracting. If I wanted to see ads with my videos, I would just go to your website.


Schedules

HBO: At first glance, there’s no big whoop to HBO’s schedules feature in the app. It closely resembles a scheduling block you would see on your TV Guide channel or in your cable provider’s channel guide. But after you flip through upcoming shows and schedules, you can delve a bit further into the app by tapping a show for more details. There, you can see a brief summary of that show, including a description, running time, show time and rating. You also have the option of selecting that show or movie as a “Favorite” and also setting a reminder for yourself about this show’s air time. The app will ask you for a mobile phone number, as it will send an SMS reminder to the phone number you enter.

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For HBO original content, there are even more features. Using True Blood as an example, once you’ve located the show on the schedule, you can favorite it, share it (more on this in a minute), set a reminder for it, or buy that episode from iTunes or Amazon.com. The app does close itself and redirect you to the iTunes Store if you go with iTunes, or it closes out to redirect to Safari to open up Amazon.com. Regardless, this isn’t just a normal TV schedule within an app. Many apps fail to connect with iTunes in a convenient way, losing out on both some serious cash through the iTunes store and also the overall user experience.

Showtime: Well, what I can tell you is that this is…a schedule. Plain and simple. There are absolutely no features within this feature, not even a “tap for more info” option when you see a show or movie you like. Choose which Showtime channel you’d like to see a schedule for, and you get a list of titles and times to scroll through without any additional information. Also, you can only see a schedule of the next 24 hours, which almost defeats the purpose of having a schedule feature in the app in the first place. How am I supposed to plan ahead?!

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Winner:

HBO
Showtime

Help us out here, Showtime. Why even provide a schedule feature if we can’t get more info on anything on the schedule and if we can only see what’s coming up in the next day? Potential: wasted.


Extras

HBO: Yes, video content should be the meat and potatoes of the app, but a few of the “extras” included in the HBO app are really like the cherry…on top of those meat and potatoes. Once you select a show to further investigate, you can view episode guides (also in the filmstrip viewing format), descriptions, photos and bios of the cast, photos from the show, and, my personal favorite, a “hidden objects” game. See if you can find the list of hidden objects in several photos from the sets of the shows, try to make good time while you’re doing so, then challenge your friends to beat your time.

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But the “extra” that pretty much takes the cake here is the sharing option for most of the content in the app. By logging into your Twitter or Facebook, you can post video clips from the app to your profiles, as well as share your scores from the hidden objects game, post links to upcoming episodes you’re gearing up for, or post your favorite character bios to your profile page. Die-hard Vampire Bill fans: Commence Swooning.

Showtime: As far as extras go, there really aren’t a whole lot in the Showtime app. And for the extras it does have, they don’t live inside of the app or aren’t all that impressive. For example, Showtime has two fairly decent iPhone app games for Dexter. Instead of including these games inside of the Showtime app, it links to the games inside the App Store, where you are redirected to in order to download the games as apps (the better of which costs money, of course). Podcasts and soundtracks for the shows are also available, but, again, you have to leave the app and get redirected to the iTunes store in order to download them. Thanks for the link, Showtime app, but if I’m a hardcore fan, enough of one to download your app, don’t you think I would already have these podcast/sountrack/game bases covered?

Winner:

HBO
Showtime

I hate to give away the ending, but HBO put the final nail in Showtime’s coffin with its colorful, fun, and interactive extras. The cast pages are fun to flip through, the sharing option motivates users to keep coming back for more, and the hidden objects game is simply addicting. Final round goes to HBO!


Final Scores

HBO:

Design/Interface
Videos
Schedules
Extras

Showtime:

Winner:

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HBO

Although the Showtime app is certainly not a horrible one, it pales in comparison to the new HBO app. The extra features and sleek design of this winning app–and not to mention the great price–are sure to make hardcore HBO fans like me a little more addicted to their shows, as well as their iPhones. The best part? There’s still room to grow with this app; it’s very exciting to think of the possibilities this app holds as more content is added into the app and shows slowly begin to return in the next few months.