Bones Show Companion iPad App Review

Bones Show Companion AppThe Bones Show Companion iPad app had some problems for my first test drive from the couch.

Unlike ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy app unveiled last week, the Bones app does not use audio watermarking or any special technology to delivery synchronized content. Instead, the user taps a “play” button in the app at the start of the show.

The free app for this FOX show had some rough edges when I tried it Thursday evening, 2/10/2011. I don’t think the problems were with me or my iPad because this should be fairly foolproof — install app, start the app and go.  I’m running iOS 4.2.1 and a wireless-n router connected to Charter cable. I saw other users complaining on the Bones Facebook page about the same problems as mine described below.

(All opinions here are my own and all names and images are the property of their respective copyright holders.)

Installing the app

The download and installation was easy.  I noticed the handful of review comments in the app store were mostly from iPhone users who wanted a version they could use.

Bones App Review start screen stuck on loading episode content

The app was stuck the first two times on trying to load episode content.

Problems from the start

My first problem came when I started the app before the show’s start time of 9 p.m. EST.  The app loaded, but then was stuck with a spinning “wait” indicator and a message that it was downloading the episode’s content.  I gave up after 2 minutes and closed the app.

The next time I tried was a few minutes after 9, but the same thing happened. Since there was just a spinning “wait” indicator and no progress bar, I couldn’t tell if the app was really downloading a lot of content or was just stuck. Again, I closed the app.

Bones App Review Kill App Button

Button to kill the app processes

This time, I completely killed it by double-tapping the home button to get the quick switch drawer, holding down the Bones icon until the red minus sign appeared and tapping it to kill any background processing.  I restarted the app and this time — success!

But my success was short-lived.  The app loaded the episode’s content right away, but for last week’s episode (ep. 12 “The Sin in the Sisterhood”) instead of tonight’s (ep. 13 “The Daredevil in the Mold”).  My TiVo agreed with Wikipedia and FOX.com about what episode should be airing tonight, so the app really was a week behind. (Side note: even FOX.com was a little confused. The home page had a graphic at the top that said Bones aired at 8/7c and a program guide farther down the page that said 9/8c.)

I noticed the episode 13 content appear in the app about 1 a.m. EST, which was around the end of the Bones west coast airing.

Bones Show Companion episode content

Bones App Review Episode 12 Start Screen

Start screen in portrait mode with navigation at top, show content feed in center and play sync button at bottom.

Starting the app reveals a screen with navigation buttons displayed in a horizontal row near the top when the iPad is in vertical/portrait mode or a vertical set of buttons on the left when the iPad is in horizontal/landscape mode.

The center area displays buttons where content will appear during the show after you hit the play button.   First thing I noticed about them was that each had the time during the show when the button’s content would be activated.  I also noticed the “Pause for Ads” slider switch with on and of settings. I could kind of guess what this might do, but it might not be clear to all users.  A message that appears later in the app clarifies it.

One content button was present before starting the show. It was labeled  for episode 12 preview clips — “previews” for last week’s episode.  Episode 13 updates this to say “photos” instead of “clips.”

The previews page gave me a counter showing the time down to the second since episode 12 aired, which was just over 7 days ago at that point.  The previews page had four images from the episode.  The caption on the largest featured image in ep. 12 had a question mark character instead of the copyright symbol.  Special characters are always tricky when going from word processors to maybe XML or content management systems and then apps.

Bones App Review Copyright Symbol issue

An example from Ep. 12 of how handling special characters can be tricky in content feeds. This was fixed in Ep. 13 by using text instead of the copyright symbol.

The three other images used “(c)” instead of a copyright symbol, which was also used for all four ep. 13 images.

The next challenge: how do I exit the preview screen? I found an X button in the top right. I also noticed the Show button in the top nav (using landscape mode) might do it. This seemed close, but not exactly like the normal design for the back button within iOS apps.  The show button is orange to make it look active, which to me says I’m already on the show page.  But the button also pointed to the left like the normal back button.  Also, you usually see a back button by itself in iOS and not in a row with other dimmed nav buttons.  The button is usually also all the way at the top or bottom of the screen, not 1/4 of the way down the screen below a title graphic header.

Bones App Review Show Button

When I tapped the orange Show button and returned to the main screen, the Show button became a light grey instead of a dark grey like the other nav buttons.

When I hit the play button at the bottom of the screen, the timers on every button in the content feed area began counting down. It was a little distracting to see them all ticking away at once.

Bones iPad App review Brennan TranslatorThe next content area that appears during the show is the Brennan Translator.  This reveals forensic geek speak and lets you translate it to plain English.  However, it wasn’t clear you had to hold your finger down on the translate button and not just tap to make the translated text appear.  When I tapped the button, I hardly noticed the translation text change in place and thought at first nothing happened.  It didn’t help that the translated text was mostly hidden by my finger holding the button. I can’t think of any other button in iOS design that acts as a momentary switch in this way.

The images with each forensic phrase included a Facebook icon. I tapped it without being able to tell what would happen when I did so. An alert box told me to log in to Facebook, but didn’t tell me how to do so. I figured out I must click on the Connect with Facebook icon in the top left area that I had so far overlooked.  I think I’ve gotten so used to seeing the Connect with Facebook icon on sites that I’ve started to ignore it until I really need it.

An embedded browser window opened to log in.  With episode 13 content, the app crashed and closed the first time I tried it. It worked with episode 12 content earlier in the evening and when I logged into Facebook the app went back to the Brennan Translator.  The Connect with Facebook button became a depressed Facebook Logout button (which to me looks like the selected/active state for a button rather than a button waiting to be pressed.)

I tried the Facebook icon on the images again and an in-line browser window for Facebook told me to “Say something witty” and that it would post the Bones Speak message to my wall “via Bones Show Companion.”  FOX was not mentioned. Neither was the tune-in time for Bones, so maybe they are trying to avoid any blatant promotional pushes to watch the show.

Null Error when cancelling the Facebook post to wall process

Error received when choosing to skip posting to Facebook.

When I hit the skip button instead of posting to Facebook, the in-line browser closed and I got an error alert box that said simply “Error: null.” It happened again when I tried on the next translation. (This happened with both episodes 12 and 13.)

When I hit the publish button instead of skip, I got an alert box saying “Your stream was published.”  I know what they’re saying, but using “stream” for a single post to my wall sounds odd — just not the kind of message I expected. I don’t think anyone goes around saying, “Dude, my stream was published last night.” I think this message could be customized, perhaps through something like the FB.ui method (see Facebook documentation for more).

Bones App Review Angelatron from episode 13The next content button to be enabled is for the forensics lab.  The “Angelatron” lets you “go back and check the Forensic evidence.”  Ep. 12 contained three video clips of two to 14 seconds in length.  Ep. 13 contained two videos of three and nine seconds in length, two single images, and one image slideshow.

Bones App Review Slideshow with small button

Slideshow with small buttons for navigating.

I could only navigate the slideshow by tapping very small buttons numbered for each slide. I could not swipe the images to advance the slideshow like you would expect on an iPad.

Bones App Review Royal Diner JukeboxThe Royal Diner Jukebox appeared in the content feed to offer two songs for ep. 12 and three for ep. 13.  Each had a small play button, iTunes button, Facebook button and album cover.  I wanted to tap the album covers to see a larger version, but no luck.  Pressing play got me a 29-second sample of each song.  Pressing the Facebook icon got me an in-line browser window to post info on the song and this episode of Bones. The album art cover did not look very good in the Facebook form since it was apparently scaled up from the small image on the previous screen.

Hitting the iTunes button took me, as you would expect, to iTunes.  The Bones app remembered where I was when I returned, which is something the Grey’s Anatomy app didn’t do last week. I tried both fast-switching and exiting iTunes to the home screen and the Bones app remembered where I was each time.

Bones App Review Poll from Episode 12“Who Killed Ed Samuel?” was the question posed by the next content button for episode 12.  Again, this page offered an unfamiliar interface. It just wasn’t clear what to do on this screen and I suspect it may not have been working. The button to take you here is not enabled until about 3 minutes before the end of the show.  The page says in the corner that the “correct answer will be displayed at the end of the show.” But of course, if I’m watching the show, won’t I already know the answer? It had spaces for what looked like poll results at the bottom as if I should be voting on this, but tapping the suspect images did noting.  At the end of the show, the correct answer appeared at the bottom, but until then there appeared to be nothing to do here and no message telling me that I was too late or something.


Bones iPad App Review Poll from episode 13It looks like this was somewhat improved in episode 13.  It became a question of the week appearing with about 8 minutes left in the show: “What do YOU think Hodgins and Angela’s kid will grow up to be?”  This had a 35-second sonogram video and a very confusing poll interface.  Results for the poll were already there in bar graph form and each had an identical “My Vote”  button above it.  I tapped one and apparently that cast my vote for the text next to it.  Standard radio buttons would be more helpful to indicate you can only select one answer.


The final content item to appear was Dr. Lance Sweet’s Final Thought.  Ep. 12 only contained Lorem ipsum text, so I guess the good doctor was thinking in Latin. Ep. 13 had a column with several notes from the character. It also wasn’t obvious to me here that I needed to scroll to see more text.

Bones App Review Dr. Sweet's Final Thought Episode 12

Bones App Review Dr. Sweet's Final Thought Episode 13

Bones App Review Pause for AdsPause for ads

As for the experience of using this app, the whole pause for ads concept seems a bit complex. So I have to hit the play button when the show starts on TV, it will pause at the time for a commercial break, and then I have to start it again? Fortunately, a good info screen appeared at break time to explain why the app paused and highlighted the slider button for turning off the pause function.  Unfortunately, there was one glaring typo in the screen where it said “If your watching Bones” instead of “If you’re watching Bones.”
Bones App Review Paude for Ads Toggle
Other content

Besides the episodic content, the app offers some other features to get you through the week.

Bones App Review Connect FeatureThe Connect feature asks for your location and then shows comments on a map from people in your area. However, the comments all say they were made 734,575 days ago. Anyone commenting back then would be just “bones” now (sorry, couldn’t resist).  Comments included: “Love Bones” and “undefined” and “They better offer more than this for this app to succeed.”

The screen didn’t tell me how to post a comment. I took a guess and tried tapping the red pin on my town, which revealed a Facebook box to set my status. I submitted one and then noticed there didn’t appear to be any way to change my comment afterward.  I don’t know if it will stay there permanently or if it is cleared after some amount of time.  I also could not tell if these comments were only from users of this app.

Bones App Review Connect Days Since PostingWhen I hit the refresh comments button, the map and pins reloaded. My pin changed from red to purple like all the others and said it was posted 734,575 days ago. I feel very old.

The Season nav button listed one episode, which was the one from last week loaded in the app. Tapping it didn’t do anything.

Advertising

I did not see any sponsors in the app.  My guess would be the team was concentrating on the app development rather than an advertising experiment.  Grey’s Anatomy had Lexus as an exclusive sponsor last week. I wonder whether the difference in approaches represent which departments at ABC and FOX are managing these apps.

Final content count for Episode 12 (beta test?)

  • Preview clips for this episode (0 videos, 4 still images with captions)
  • Brennan Translator with Facebook post to wall integration: 3
  • Royal Diner Jukebox: 2 songs
  • Forensics lab: 3 video clips
  • Who Killed Ed Samuel: 1 (but is it a poll?)
  • Dr. Sweet’s Final Thoughts diary: 1

Final content count for Episode 13

  • Preview photos for this episode (4 still images with captions)
  • Brennan Translator with Facebook post to wall integration: 3
  • Royal Diner Jukebox: 3 songs
  • Forensics lab: 2 video clips, 2 single images, 1 six-image slideshow
  • Poll: 1
  • Dr. Sweet’s Final Thoughts diary: 1

Other content in the app

  • Cast bios: 6
  • Connect (map-comment mashup): 1

Final thoughts

I do like that I can skip ahead or revisit content after the show in case I don’t want to be too distracted while watching. I did worry about seeing spoilers when I started skipping around, but I figured if I did see them it would be my own fault.  There are pros and cons to giving full control to the user vs. the strictly synchronized environment used in the Grey’s Anatomy app. It will be interesting to see which one users prefer. The Grey’s Anatomy use of Media-Sync feels slicker, but it’s nice to be able to browse all of the content at any time.  Kudos to the Bones team for supporting fast app switching.

Otherwise, it looks like the Bones app just needs some time to mature and fix the bugs. Something must have been going on to keep episode 13 content from appearing until 3 to 4 hours after the east coast airing, so I look forward to trying it again another week.  If you have any information on the apparent delay in deploying ep. 13 content, I’d love to know the rest of the story so we can all learn from it. Everyone is new at this right now.

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