Do you Second Screen?

Jonathan Nalder
11 May, 2013
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Remember the good old days when the prosperity (or stupidity) of a household was measured by the amount of TVs it contained? A few years ago, this measure changed to the size of the TV – but in the last couple of years it has gone in another direction as well.

What is that new direction? Do you keep your iPhone within easy reach at all times? Does it get used to look up TV show info, or even to ‘Shazam’ them? Do you tweet/share on Facebook your opinions of what’s on as it airs? Are you a GetGlue (kind of like the Foursquare of watching and reading) user? Or do you just find that browsing your iPad is much more engaging than whatever the TV stations are serving up on any given night?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then you are already a second screen user. In fact, practically the first thing that a modern smartphone or tablet buyer discovers is – these are perfect for killing time during ad breaks. There is even good data from the US and UK showing that the percentage of people using apps while watching TV is between 75 percent and 80 percent.

Some media companies are beginning to cater to this market by releasing specific second screen apps. The one created for Alien prequel Prometheus was the first one I came across. I was too disappointed in the movie to bother rewatching with the app, but if the setup difficulties reported here are anything to go by, this was a good choice. This app, and other ones released since such as for The Avengers rely on your Blu-ray player and iPad or iPhone being on the same Wi-Fi network to sync playback with special features in the app. Concept art pertinent to each scene is displayed on the iPad, and apparently at certain points the movie pauses while short ‘making of’ videos play in the app.

Another well-known example is the afore-mentioned Shazam app. While it started originally as a purely music-tagging app (and a pretty impressive one at that – Shazam is apparently installed on over 300 million devices), it has recently added the ability to listen to the audio of specific TV shows or ads you may be watching, so you can either instantly access more info about the show, or participate in competitions. This increased engagement is of course good news for advertisers and TV networks as well.

Of course, there is another second-screen option available that lets you flip the ‘iPad/iPhone as companion device’ model around. Rather than your devices screen serving only to enhance (or distract from) the main game on the TV, anyone with an Apple TV can of course use Airplay to send the iPad or iPhone screen to the TV. The best uses of this option can then display the main content (be it TV show or game) on the TV, but also show a different screen on the iPad or iPhone. So you can keep browsing or reading while the show plays on the big screen (SBS Now app), or see the main racing track view on the TV while steering with the iPad/iPhone and seeing a track map on its screen such as with Real Racing. Interestingly, Appleinsider recently reported that while Airplay is the most popular of screen-sharing options, it’s not being used all that much. Perhaps the answer to this is what Rolomotion is attempting by making your iPhone the console and the controller at the same time.

Other companies than Apple of course have entries in this field. Microsoft has its Smartglass app that turns any tablet into an advanced remote control for the Xbox 360, while also serving up extra content for games and movies that have been specifically enabled.

Perhaps the company that has taken the biggest gamble on its own unique take on the second screen concept has been Nintendo. I recently procured a Wii U console, which has turned out to be a fantastic upgrade over the previous Wii. While the best thing about it has probably been the increased HD resolution for our old games, I have seriously enjoyed the way the GamePad (basically a Wiimote crossed with a 6in tablet) is used to interact with and control games. Some work much like Real Racing on iOS and display a main game screen on the TV, and maps and other functions on the GamePad screen, while others make the GamePad the main screen to watch and leave the TV view more for family and friends who are watching. Yet others, however, use the two screens to show totally different views, like in the hide and seek game that’s part of the Nintendoland mini-games title.

If there is one thing that I would criticise about the second screen experience, despite the increased feeling of control over my consumption that I as the viewer can assert, it’s the feeling you get at times of not knowing where you should be looking. Up or down? And is it perhaps just a bit ridiculous to be multi-tasking even while ostensibly relaxing? Perhaps. So what is your take on Second Screening? New genius or evil distraction?

To find more of Jonathan’s online content, follow him on Twitter at @jnxyz, or visit for more options.

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