App review: Fayve for the iPad
These days there are recommendation apps for just about anything that can be recommended, and that’s a good thing. The media market in particular is now so crowded that it’s no longer about getting access to what you want, but about actually finding something you like. Gone are the days when we watched anything that came on, and these days it’s about choosing what to watch. Fayve is a new iPad app that recommends TV shows and movies to you based on your own ratings, and/or your Netflix or Facebook account. Some of the services it ties into have recommendation engines of their own, so is there any point in doing a separate app?
The idea behind Fayve is to tie together the various media providers out there- like Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and so on, and provide a platform for recommendations from all these services. The app itself is designed like an old movie theater, with a ton of fancy animations centered around a column of slowly rotating film reels with thumbnails for movies and shows. Starting at the top of this column you can access various categories like What’s Hot, New Arrivals, Recommend For Me, and so on. You then have various subcategories like genre or what service they’re on- depending on which section you’re in. You can for instance go by Recommend For Me, then Action, and then spin the Tough Guys reel to see movies like Sin City or Die Hard. You can click you way to more information about each entry, add to your Wishlist, or share it.
It’s an extremely visual app, utilizing the reel design and various 3D effects to present everything it has to offer. It’s the kind of app that wouldn’t have gotten as much attention if it hadn’t been for these effects, and unfortunately the app starts falling apart quite quickly if you dig too much into it. Heck, some of the issues with it even comes from these effects. For instance, because this utilizes thumbnails instead of text, and dynamically fetches the information from the various services, you end up with instances where the thumbnail is missing. In some of those cases, it displays an automatically generated thumbnail with a generic icon and text, while in others, it just displays a black image that gives you no idea of what’s there until you click it. You can luckily enable displaying titles, but that’s off by default.
Another issue is with actually filtering content. You can sign into Facebook and Netflix to tie in those accounts, and you can filter by service provider, like having it show only what’s on Netflix Instant. This will however not give you access to that service’s own categories, and you’re stuck with the somewhat arbitrary ones from Fayve. There’s also no way that I’ve found to display only TV shows or movies, so it just mixes those together. To me, being able to select TV or movie would be a much more important feature than being able to select the service. This is a US only app because of its deep tie-in to US-only(/mostly) services, which essentially turns the useful feature of being able to filter by service into an app-defining limitation. This is an app that ideally should be available worldwide, and only offer service filters as an option, not a requirement. I use several apps for recommending and tracking TV shows and movies, and this is the only one that doesn’t account for upcoming or unavailable titles, again because of this ridiculous fixation on the supported services.
The recommendation are also more a miss than a hit, despite the app throwing a hundred recommendations at you. I basically watch only TV shows on Netflix, and as a result the Netflix recommendation engine realizes I want to see TV shows. This app, however, just piles on with movies. Heck, I can’t find a single TV show recommendation in my favorite genres! On Netflix, I typically get recommendations for shows that I’ve watched outside of Netflix, as those fit my taste without Netflix knowing that I’ve seen them. In other words, it’s proof that Netflix’ recommendation engine actually works, because you end up going “yep, you’re right, I would like that” when you see the recommendations. In Fayve, on the other hand, despite it using my Netflix data, it essentially just recommended dozens of random movies.
Another issue is that grabbing information from so many sources makes for a huge mess at the receiving end. Let’s take the TV series (Star Trek) Enterprise. It’s listed as two separate shows in this app, each with a different thumbnails. It shows Netflix as having the show for streaming, but only some of the episodes, like this and that episode from season 2 for one of the listings and 12/25 episodes of season 1 for the other listing. For the record, Netflix has all seasons, all episodes, listed under one name. How it’s able to split that up into two entries, and do it so arbitrarily, is beyond me. It’s all a massive mess or unusable information gathered by an automatic algorithm that is months away from prime time.
All of these issues seem to come from focusing too much on the design and too little on the actual functionality. You have an app with beautiful 3D effects that never skip a beat, but at the same time an app that can’t even manage to suggest TV shows when all the personal data you feed it is about TV shows. On top of that, while beautiful, the design is also frankly a bit pointless. It’s a novelty design, one that isn’t really all that functional, and it’s inconsistent with the typical iPad experience. I can’t help but think of the recently updated IMDb app, which presents much the same content, but in a much more professional, consistent, and frankly usable way- while still being as, if not more, impressive looking.
All in all, Fayve is the kind of app you’ll either end up loving or just put away after having tried it once. It’s a good idea, with some nice visuals, but unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that the core functionality is basically garbage. It doesn’t fetch and organize information properly, and the inherent idea behind the app as a companion to available media services has been implemented in a way that limits you as much as it helps you. If you do find something you’d like in there, it’s likely because it shows so much at once and just happened to get a hit, rather than it tracking down that handful you’d really like. It’s a free app, and one that’s still in its infancy, but it needs a lot of work before it’s something I’d consider integrating deeply into my watching habits.