With the releases of Apple’s Dashboard and Yahoo!‘s Konfabulator/Widgets programs, Macs and PCs gained the ability to run miniature applications called “widgets” that could quickly check the Internet for weather, flight information, stock prices and more. Notably, Apple developed a Movies widget for Mac OS X Leopard, capable of displaying movie and theater details, quick links to trailers and summary text, and even offering the ability to buy tickets directly from the widget. Though the iPhone received custom versions of some of the best Apple-developed widgets, it somehow never wound up with an official “Movies” program.
Third-party developers rightfully saw this as a major omission—wouldn’t users want to check show times, watch movie trailers, and perhaps even purchase tickets directly from their iPhones? Of course they would. So they first created iPhone-specific web pages to handle some of these features, and now have released downloadable apps that do the same things.
Today’s iPhone Gems is the first half of a two-part series on useful apps to have when you’re out on the town, focusing on all of the movie- and trailer-finding apps out there. They range in price from free to $4, and vary pretty dramatically in interface and features. Our top picks are Now Playing by Cyrus Najmabadi and Movies by Flixster, but you may find another app in the collection worthwhile as well. Note that the theater-finding apps in this collection currently don’t have much appeal to users outside of the United States, but their trailer-finding features and separate trailer-finding applications may be interesting to all iPhone or iPod touch users.
KickScreen Movie Trailers
Unlike some of the fuller-featured movie applications we’ve tested, KickScreen Movie Trailers ($1) by k5Software does nothing more than display movie trailers that the developer has located online. There’s a plain, scrolling interface with a list of movie titles and posters. Clicking on any of the listings brings up the movie’s trailer, available on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi data networks, while clicking on a small arrow icon opens a short page of descriptive text.
The listings include both current and future releases, but the main page is sparse in terms of information—just name, release date, and run time. Even given how simple the application is, an obvious omission is the ability to sort the alphabetical list in any way, or even to skip through it with the condensed letter bar found in the iPhone’s Contacts and iPod/Music applications. If you try other movie applications, you’ll begin to note the other omissions: there’s no option to see larger versions of the posters, buy tickets, or go out to the web to get more information on the movie. There’s also only one trailer per film, regardless of how many may have been released.
In our view, KickScreen isn’t too exciting given what you can get from similar applications—even the iPhone’s integrated YouTube browser—but unlike YouTube, you won’t get false results, and you may also find next year’s movie trailers here—such as Terminator Salvation—that don’t appear on the near-term focused lists of apps such as Movies. Then again, you might not; the upcoming Star Trek movie, which appears in the competing application Trailers, isn’t anywhere to be found in the version of KickScreen we used. Since all of these applications will depend on their developers for frequent content updates and completeness, you’ll have to decide whether to take the risk that they won’t contain some of the movies you’re interested in seeing; KickScreen currently doesn’t offer enough functionality or other frills to be worth paying for. iLounge Rating: C-.
As one of the two most impressively developed movie finder applications for the iPhone OS, Movies (Free) by Flixster is pretty close to a “do it all” application for movie lovers. There’s a sortable list of movies that lets you know concisely what’s opening this week, what’s already open, and what’s doing well at the box office. The listings include each film’s title, a mini-poster, rating, a Flixster-generated review score, release date, run time, and key actors, plus a click-through page for showtimes at local theaters, a nearly full-screen movie poster, and web links to Flixster, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDb. Trailers are intermittently available for the movies in Movies’ database; you can see which ones are included by little triangular play icons on the movie posters. They’re viewable on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi data networks.
Using either zip code information or the GPS location finder feature, a separate theaters button provides a list of local theaters automatically sorted by distance—including less than 3, 5, 10, 15, or 20 miles, as well as more than 20 miles—or by name, each with links to the map address and phone number. You can pick and save favorites to be displayed first. In short, the movie and theater listing features are in some ways as good as Now Playing’s, in some ways not, but they’re pretty well-implemented overall.
Two other interesting features aren’t found in any of the other applications we tested. “Upcoming” lets you see upcoming movie data pages for at least four months from the current date—currently through the end of the year—plus details and showtimes if they’re already available. Another button, DVD, provides a nicely laid-out list of new DVD releases, plus a search engine for all past DVD releases, with links to the Flixster website for much more info, photos, and even iTunes downloading if available. The latter option’s currently not useful on the iPod touch or iPhone device itself, but you can e-mail yourself a link to that Flixster page if you want to make a purchase later.
There are only a few omissions in Movies—features that could make it the best of this collection of programs without any question. The trailers and movies database isn’t as comprehensive as it could be; though you’ll find everything currently in theaters listed here, you’ll find even more future films, and trailer links, in other apps such as Trailers below. Additionally, there’s no purchasing option for movie theater tickets, which makes Now Playing more convenient once you’ve located a movie you want to see; Movies tells you to contact your local theater for purchasing options, which is an unfortunate gap. And Movies’ inclusion of a DVD release feature would similarly be even better if it provided direct ordering functionality and a comparison search engine. But if you can put these issues aside, there’s no doubt that Movies does a really solid job of making it easy to find information, reviews, and trailers for currently available movies in different formats. It might not beat Now Playing for the limited tasks that application focuses upon, but it tries to do more, and largely succeeds. It’s a very cool free app. iLounge Rating: B+.
Even more focused than Movies, Now Playing (Free, formerly named BoxOffice) by Cyrus Najmabadi is focused on doing two things: providing you with an easily sorted list of current theatrical movie releases, including names, ratings, run times, review scores, and release dates, plus a separate list of local theater options. It’s probably the best at the first task, and roughly tied with Movies on the second one.
What makes Now Playing unusually powerful for movies is that it automatically pulls review scores from RottenTomatoes or Metacritic, making its initial list of movies easily searchable by average overall rating—worth knowing—as well as by title or release date. The movies list is super-easy to browse for good picks, but devoid of poster-style art; this appears only when you click on a film’s title. On that screen, you get text details, a trailer—viewable on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi—and the option to e-mail listing details to someone else. Click on the list of theaters, which is sorted by distance or name, and you can call up linked addresses quickly on the device’s Map, or call via a telephone number link. Unlike Movies, you also get fully linked ticket ordering abilities via Fandango, as each of Now Playing’s showtimes is connected to an iPhone-formatted web page to place orders. Now Playing’s approach is a turnkey solution to movie finding, previewing, and ticket purchasing—precisely the sort of thing that makes the iPhone such a powerful pocket device.
On the flip side, Now Playing isn’t flashy, and it’s just not as ambitious as Movies. It does things simply, and it works—both major positives—but we found that its list of far away theaters wasn’t as broad as Movies’, and it doesn’t try to do DVD or future releases, either. Similarly, despite the fact that it’s been localized into a wide number of different languages, there’s only theater country support for the United States; the developer notes that additional support is coming in the future. We’ll have to see how Now Playing evolves, but for right now, it’s our favorite app for finding currently playing movies in U.S. theaters. We wish we could use it for even more, but for free, it does a very good job. iLounge Rating: B+.
OneTap Movies and Showtimes
At first glance, OneTap Movies ($2) by Avantar seems to have one of the most Apple-like interfaces of the bunch—twin banners at the top of pages look like the iTunes Store or App Store on the iPhone, and scrolling lists of movies and theaters present plenty of information about what’s available without requiring lots of extra clicks. There are separate bottom-of-screen buttons for theaters, and films sorted by popularity, rating, and newness.
But when you start clicking through the pages, the Apple analogy breaks down, as it becomes obvious that the layout and interface design aren’t really Cupertino in approach. Pages for movies alternate between readable and really small fonts, use hidden scrolling boxes, and sport not so hot layouts for presenting information. Less than intuitively, clicking on certain parts of the main menu listings will produce different results; one part of a listing will bring up a description, while another part will call up a trailer—viewable on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi—and a drop down arrow could call up showtimes. You also can’t do anything once you’ve found a movie you like, save to know what time to go to see it; there’s no ticket purchasing feature. While the basics of the interface are sound, their execution and conspicuousness could use some refinement.
The omissions and design issues relative to Movies and Now Playing are fairly obvious. Theaters are linked to map details, but not telephone numbers. There are tiny IMDb links that you might never know were there unless you tried clicking on them. Reviews consist of simple star ratings with no information on how they’ve been deduced, and there’s nothing more future focused than this week to see, either. In sum, One Tap Movie offers little for $2 that the best other apps give away for free, as it has limited information, few links, and a somewhat clumsy interface. We’d call it not so hot given its competition. iLounge Rating: C-.
On a more positive note, Avantar’s Showtimes (Free) is a free version of OneTap Movies, stripping out only a couple of its frills—movie posters and trailers—while keeping the rest of the interface almost entirely intact. It’s designed to look less impressive than OneTap Movies, and succeeds, but it was obviously created under the theory that there wouldn’t be competing free apps out there with more features. By the standards of the other free apps in this roundup, it’s only OK, but it does offer another option for those who just want showtimes and movie titles to quickly browse through. iLounge Rating: C+.
Trailers and Trailers Lite
The final two movie applications for the iPhone are Trailers ($4) and Trailers Lite (Free) by xTeo. Though it’s tempting to dismiss Trailers out of hand because of the limited functionality it provides—it’s just a trailer display application—a large database and some novel features help it do a good job of providing access to what are otherwise freely available movie trailers and posters on the Internet.
Unlike the other programs shown here, Trailers is sort of like a front end for Apple’s official QuickTime Trailers web site, including not just individual trailers for individual movies, but also downloadable movie posters and—potentially, at least—multiple trailers for individual films if they’re available. Interestingly, Trailers lets you save posters to your photos collection, using a higher resolution than the standard iPhone screen capture, and also includes trailers for both upcoming and current movies. It lets you e-mail trailer links to someone else, as well.
The problems with Trailers are several in number. First, and not discussed anywhere in its program description on the App Store, it only works when an iPhone or iPod touch is in Wi-Fi mode; it doesn’t work with the iPhone or iPhone 3G in either EDGE or 3G data mode. Additionally, besides its overly high price, it’s very bare on film details, doing little more than referring you to Apple’s trailer web page or the movie’s official site for more. All the details and links it provides are all basically just captured from Apple’s own trailers web site, and reformatted hastily for the iPhone—Apple could and probably should have done this itself. Similarly, while Trailers has a more visually-focused widescreen poster browsing mode that lets you pick films by image rather than text, it then doesn’t rotate the rest of its informational interface into the widescreen format. This is all putting aside the fact that you don’t benefit from any of the movie ticket, theater finding, and other features found in trailer-laden apps such as Movies and Now Playing.
Overall, Trailers feels like it’s not quite finished yet, but thanks to its database, there’s more to be seen here than in KickScreen above, and serious potential for this application to provide considerably more value than a mere YouTube database search could offer. We look forward to seeing what the developer does with upcoming versions, and hope that the price will become more reasonable. iLounge Rating: C.
Trailers Lite is the free version of Trailers, offering similar but slightly stripped down functionality as a teaser of what’s in the full version of the application. In addition to working only on Wi-Fi networks, Lite is limited to showing 50 trailers rather than the over 300 found in the paid version, makes it a little less convenient to play each trailer, and lacks the ability to save movie posters to your photos collection. Practically speaking, this means that Lite gives you the ability to see most of the trailers for films currently in theaters—plus some that aren’t—and get basic details and art for the movies in the directory. We view Trailers Lite as a fine add-on app to Movies and Now Playing, with the ability to sometimes fill in a gap in their trailer databases; some users may not want to clutter their iPhone or iPod touch menus with it, though, as it’s substantially overlapping the work of Movies, Now Playing, and the iPhone’s integrated YouTube functionality without doing much more. iLounge Rating: B-.
See our other iPhone Gems features here. The second part of this series, dealing with tip calculators and meal splitters, is here.