If there’s any application, service, or marketplace everybody loves to hate, it’s iTunes. It’s a bloated, crash-ridden, mind-blowingly frustrating piece of software, and sentiment towards the product ranges from “someone should shoot it” to “it’s doomed.” Creating something users enjoy more than iTunes shouldn’t be that hard. Unfortunately, Vdio, a so-called ”social television and movie experience” built by Rdio, which made its long-awaited debut last week, shows that it is.
Vdio is essentially a better-looking iTunes that lives in the browser instead of sitting on the hard drive. Users can purchase television shows and films for $3 and $15, respectively, or five bucks rent movies for 24 hours. There is no Rdio-like subscription service available yet — an odd choice, given the oft-repeating reports that Apple plans to introduce its own streaming solution. To co-opt one of Apple’s favorite metaphors: Vdio is skating to where the puck is, not where it’s going to be.
I tested Vdio courtesy of the $25 credit the service is offering to Rdio subscribers in the US and UK, and found that, for a service that should be more convenient than the iTunes nightmare, Vdio is pretty damned inconvenient. Vdio can be accessed via the Web or iPad, but only just barely: The iPad app is useless by itself, as Vdio does not allow users to purchase or rent videos from within the app.
This means that if you want to watch a film on your iPad you need to access Vdio by a desktop Web browser, find and purchase the film you want, then retreat back to your iPad, click “Play,” then repeat every time you want to watch something different. If you were to feel the same hankering for entertainment and use iTunes you would simply have to open the iTunes app on your iPad, select and pay for the film you want, and watch it right there on your device.
But, wait! If you want to watch your film on a television set instead of a 9.7-inch display, Vdio’s (technically) got you covered with AirPlay support. Note the caveat in that sentence, as it means all the difference between “Vdio makes it fun and easy to watch videos you purchase on your television” and “Vdio’s AirPlay support is so frustrating that it simply isn’t worth it.”
Watching a video via Vdio’s AirPlay support requires the Vdio app be open on your device at all times. In practice this means that you have to leave your iPad unlocked (and prevent it from automatically locking itself) if you you want to watch Vdio-purchased content on your television, then hope the battery outlasts the movie you’re watching and no one else wants to use your iPad for anything else. Or, again, you can buy a movie on iTunes without any of the hassle.
That’s the main problem with Vdio. While iTunes can be slow and buggy, crashes at the weirdest moments, at its worst it’s far more convenient than Vdio at its best. If you have even the slightest preference for watching and purchasing videos from a variety of devices without having to deal with klutzy processes and irritating limitations, stick with iTunes.
I wanted to like Vdio. I’m a happy Rdio user and detest iTunes as much as the next guy. The website and iPad app are well-designed, and, unlike Netflix or other streaming video solutions, Vdio doesn’t suffer from a starved content library. I could even get behind the social aspect of the service, as eavesdropping on what other people are watching might allow me to find a worthwhile television show or film that I might have otherwise missed.
In its current incarnation, however, Vdio simply isn’t worth using as an iTunes replacement.
This could change. Maybe Vdio is working on a super-secret subscription option that blows the pants off Netflix. Maybe the service will launch on other platforms faster than it did on the Web and the iPad. Maybe instead of offering free movies to early adopters, Vdio will give everyone a puppy. It’s still early.
As of now, though, I’m not even sure I’ll use up the $25 worth of free content Vdio gave me just for signing up. (Consider that a disclosure.) And if a company can’t give away something for free, it’s got serious problems.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]