Most of us now watch drama, comedy, film and sport online and on-demand, in a format that allows us to skip forward and rewind at will. We’re no longer tied to schedules, no longer reliant on DVRs to untie us from those schedules, and no longer bound by the advert breaks those DVRs helped us to avoid.
Unfortunately, news hasn’t joined the party. We still watch live broadcasts in the traditional, inflexible way, and in so doing, we sit through plenty of headlines of no interest. This is a crazy situation for a form of programming which is, perhaps, the most subject critical. The main reason for this illogical status quo is convenience; switching on your TV is easy, but watching news online is not.
This is the problem that Watchup wants to solve. The idea is to draw content from some of the world’s most respected news outlets into one, autoplaying stream, which adapts to match your taste. But does the execution meet the appealing theory?
It’s hard not to be impressed by Watchup’s refreshingly unhindered approach to delivering content. The newly installed app merely requires the configuration of one setting — the time at which Watchup should build your daily newscast — before instantly catapulting you into autoplay news.
Watchup selects a default array of “Channels” based on your location, and cues videos from these sources automatically.
Inactivity triggers full-screen viewing, and there’s only a three second gap between videos. It would be oh, so easy just to gawp at the high quality video journalism, without bothering with any further input, but if you’re willing to tear yourself away, there’s a great deal more this app has to give.
Only when you stop looking at the videos, and start looking around, will you notice the cleverly formulated interface. Each of the iPad screen’s four sides is designated for a particular purpose, and each is home to a slide-out drawer.
At the top is the sideways-scrolling queue of upcoming reports. Tapping on a video reveals the options to play it instantly or move it to the top of the playlist. The expandable menu here allows for the drag-and-drop addition of videos, as well as access to all of your channels. In my testing, this area had the occasional hiccup in terms of sensitivity to touch, but it worked nicely for the vast majority of the time.
Below the video player, which takes up the central majority of the screen, is information about the video being played, and this panel slides out to produce sharing outlets, and the opportunity to cue other related reports.
Pulling out the right-hand drawer reveals an interesting, innovative feature: Articles. This is a custom-styled list of Bing search results which relate to the subject of the video being played. It would have been nice to see Readability-type text extraction, but the standard web view in which these links open is perfectly usable with a bit of pinch-zooming.
The left-hand side of the screen holds Watchup’s main menu, although it is, in reality, merely a list of three options. A link to feedback entry is accompanied by the opportunity to reschedule your personal newscast, and there is also access to the entire list of channels included in Watchup…a very, very long list of channels, that is.
Watchup’s content is not exclusive, or remarkable in any way, actually. All of the videos can be found somewhere online. What makes this app a joy to use is the way it retrieves and organizes the disparate news sources, not just into one app, but into a single stream.
And those sources have been well chosen. Scrolling down the huge list of channels — listed by country of origin — is like looking through the global who’s who of news. Many of these are the traditional kind of current affairs-based video publishers — Reuters, ABC, CNN, The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times, etc. — but there’s also plenty of sport (ESPN), satire (The Daily Show), tech (TechCrunch) and other miscellaneous content (TED Talks) on offer.
Tapping a channel adds it to your subscribed list, and it is from these sources that auto-cued videos are drawn. Sadly, you’re only able to subscribe to 20 sources at any one time. This no doubt has something to do with rights restrictions, although Watchup’s blog states that the limit is imposed “so that your interface doesn’t become too crowded.” Whatever the reason, it does make things feel a touch limiting, even for someone like me, who appreciates a stripped-back approach.
Given that Watchup has chosen to wrest control of the remote, perhaps its greatest test is to serve up the right content for each viewer.
Having used Watchup for all of my news in recent weeks, I’d like to think I’ve given it every opportunity to learn my taste. For the most part, it has. It is worth noting, however, that this intelligence is applied to channels, rather than individual videos. This does mean that Watchup’s personalization isn’t total, but it also means that the app avoids the micromanagement of content, a process which so often ends up in irritation and ineffectiveness.
There are only a few apps on my iPad’s main home screen — I always seek clarity, even if it requires minimalism — and those that make it are ones that I love and use on a daily basis. Since writing this review, Watchup has been added to this select group, thanks to its hands-free approach, great design and engrossing content.
That’s not to say Watchup is error-free. I have had infrequent issues with the video queue’s touch sensitivity, there is no way of viewing individual channels, and your subscription list only extends to 20 channels.
But, in comparison to the genuinely joyful experience of instant-on iPad news viewing that Watchup delivers, these minor irritations are almost irrelevant. Put it this way — if this is a taste of future newscasting, I’m in.