Did you know DIRECTV had on-screen apps? Most folks don’t. Maybe you’ve read an article about them here, or maybe you’ve just stumbled upon them by pressing the right arrow on your remote and… waiting.
The history of TVApps
The original iteration of DIRECTV TVApps started in the late 2000s when DIRECTV was still pursuing its “you only need one box” strategy. These were the days when there was a primitive way to watch your own movies, see your own pictures, and watch over-the-air television all through your DIRECTV DVR.
The first TVApps were envisioned as an open marketplace where anyone could contribute HTML-based code and have it appear in an app store. Among the common ones of the day were a flickr player, several webcams, and even a way to track DIRECTV software downloads.
The redesign of TVApps
It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since TVApps were designed on DIRECTV. Gone were the user-supplied apps and app store. What was left were DIRECTV-produced versions of the most-popular apps.
In 2017, apps got a mild refresh which brought both additional function and some branding improvements. Since then they have stayed mostly static. Some apps have been added and some taken away, depending on what’s going on at the time.
Today you can use Apps for iHeartRadio, two different weather channels, Music Choice, and a variety of rich online experiences such as the recent March Madness app. You can also access these same things by pressing MENU on your Genie client and scrolling down.
You can also use TVApps to access Locast which will give you live local channels on your Genie client if you are in a supported market. This is probably the most valuable app in the portfolio, especially if you’re under a channel blackout.
The good of TVApps
What’s really good are the newer experiences. The Music Choice app is much better than just tuning into one of the Music Choice channels, and includes videos as well as the traditional screen saver you see with Music Choice on cable. The weather experiences work with your location. You can also add additional locations. The interactive experiences for things like the Masters, March Madness, and such are always really nicely rendered and work really well.
The bad of TVApps
I’ll grudgingly admit that TVApps haven’t really kept up. Some of them, like ScoreGuide, haven’t really seen any changes in a decade. When I wrote an article about DIRECTV’s weather apps, a reader pointed out that they could literally walk to another room. power up a smartphone that wasn’t powered on, start a weather app and check the weather all while the DIRECTV weather app was loading. I think that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but I get it. If you have your phone nearby it is going to be faster.
Overall, the older TVApps like ScoreGuide and Weather make us think of an earlier time when always-on internet was still a dream. Their slow performance has a lot to do with the kind of devices they are running on. These boxes play video really well. This sort of general-purpose work doesn’t suit them and it shows.
Is there a future for TVApps?
I think that there’s a lot up in the air now that AT&T is spinning DIRECTV and its other video services into a new company. It’s certainly possible to imagine a new generation of receiver, akin to what Comcast has done in past years. Such a receiver could finally fulfill that “one box to rule them all” strategy by offering streaming apps alongside DIRECTV. Computing power certainly costs a lot less than it did when the DIRECTV HD DVR launched in 2006. You can see that when you realize you can get a full-featured 4K streamer for under $50 if you want.
In the meantime, TVApps is one of those things that doesn’t bother you if you don’t use it. I do think the newer apps are really good, and ok, so what. So you don’t use it for scores or weather. Your phone’s right there anyway.