DIRECTV's e-mail blast today touted the new features of their mobile web site. Let's put it through its paces to see if there's anything worth playing around with.
DIRECTV has come under fire in the past for having a somewhat weak web presence. Their site has been slow to load and it hasn't always been easy to find what you're looking for. DIRECTV was early on the market with a mobile DVR scheduler for cell phones. When the award-winning iPhone and iPad apps were released, the mobile site didn't receive the love and affection that it deserved. In the meantime, other providers leapfrogged DIRECTV in capabilities.
If you want a really full-featured experience, you should download the app for iPhone or Android phones. It lets you search and schedule programs to record. The iPad app is even better, letting you control your TV like a mega-remote.
DIRECTV has reworked its mobile app. Browsing to DIRECTV.com now takes you to this mobile experience instead of the old DVR scheduler, or trying to load the full site which was definitely not phone-friendly.
The web site gets low marks at the beginning for one reason: about 1/3 of the screen is covered by a pop-up asking me to add this site to my home screen. Thanks but no thanks. Once I closed the pop-up, the options were clearly labeled in order:
- Pay my Bill
- Browse Movies
- Browse Live Events
- View My Channel Lineup
- Set My DVR
- View My Transactions
- View My Orders
- View My Service Calls
- View My Receivers
- View My Services
- View My Profile
- Get Support
Some of these options are pretty useful. Paying your bill is a great start, and you can order movies and pay-per-view events right from your phone. The View My Channel Lineup, though, is a little weak.
You can scroll a little bit by flicking, but every time I tried to go more than a few channels, the window closed and I had to relaunch it. I also thought this would be a great place for actual program listings, but there are no program listings to be found, just channel names.
The list is attractive though, and what's important I can order it alphabetically or by channel number. I could see myself using this to see what channel SyFy was on, or maybe one of the other channels that I don't normally watch.
Whenever possible, there are channel icons, too. This helps make the most of this screen.
On the other hand, the item marked "Set my DVR" is a bit of a disappointment, because it just gives you the opportunity to download the app. It's a shame, because I was really impressed the first time that I scheduled a recording from my phone. You can't do it without the app, and if you're on a limited data plan you're not going to want to load an app while you're away from wi-fi range.
Other options are more useful though, such as a listing of receivers that allows you to reauthorize a receiver from the phone. This is an incredible improvement from the days when I would run from room to room pushing buttons on the computer and watching the receiver. Reauthorizing is sometimes necessary when a receiver loses channels in the guide or if it's been unplugged for more than a day or so. I always hated to do it... now it's a lot easier.
Where this app really shines is the "Get Support" button. It's a shame that it's so far down the list. I would have put this all the way at the top.
A few years ago DIRECTV rebuilt their support site from scratch around "natural language." There's a simple search box and you can ask questions. It knows what you're asking almost all of the time and offers relevant answers. I could see people using this all of the time. I hope people scroll all the way down to the bottom to get to this menu. It's really worth it.
There are still a lot of features missing from the DIRECTV online experience. Other providers let you control your playlist or even stream programming live from their sites. DIRECTV doesn't do that. There's no chat function for support on the full site or on the mobile site. DIRECTV does pay close attention to its twitter feed, though, so it's worth going that route. You can call DIRECTV right from the app, but again it requires scrolling all the way down and tapping on "Contact Us."
The good news is that this is a web site, not an app, so it will work on almost any phone made today. It won't work on older phones that still use the WAP standard, but that generally refers to phones made before 2008, before the iPhone era. It's a little slow even on a wi-fi network but it is well optimized for the small screen and it does give you full access to a lot of features.
It's a shame DIRECTV killed off the one feature that started its mobile presence, but that's really ok because they have a killer phone app for iPhone and Android. This is just another piece of the puzzle.