Yep, we did it again. We won the hackathon at the TV Hackfest at AppsWorld 2014 conference in SF!
I had attended the conference last year and really found it worthwhile. They had great sessions at Android World, Developers World, and Enterprise World booths. There are sessions focusing on both technical and marketing aspects of mobile app development. I found the (still ongoing) debate on mobile HTML5 and Native development most interesting.
The sessions this year were very similar to last year so I didn’t spend much time and instead went to check out the TV Hackfest that was happening simultaneously. But I did have time to attend one good session from Twitter about how to overcome the >=5 day iOS app update lag. The speaker mentioned how the delay breaks the continuous integration flow designed to limit bugs in production. Android and HTML5 don’t have this problem. I have always wanted to see HTML5 as a universal mobile development standard that is as close to performant as native, with fast JS and non-crippled webviews. I can still hope!
The ~30 hour hack event took place just outside the main conference hall at Moscone West. The “TV Hackfest” was entirely sponsor based, and as such we started looking at the APIs available. Having never played with the TV app ecosystem, this hackathon was new to me technically.
We couldn’t come up with too many ideas on the first day and any that we did, we realized that the interface would be a pain to use for the user. This was the major issue. I felt that a lot of things you could do on mobile would be too distracting for the user who came to watch the show and really just wants to watch the show, not be overwhelmed with a mobile app beeping and buzzing with new info constantly (unless of course the show sucks and he is bored).
By the end of the first day and halfway into the second, we went with a TV app that shows tweets (live an historical) of the TV show you are watching. Using Alphonso (a sponsor), we could discover the show that the user is watching. Its likes Shazam for TV. This is really the starting point, as you don’t want users to have to type a show name every time they launch your app. We grab the tweets using the Zeebox API and show them in the corner of the TV with a translucent background.
We had something decent but I didn’t feel the idea was a killer. And with only a couple hours to demo deadline, I started to seek inspiration. Thinking about how interactive some of our past hacks were, I got the idea for a Like button for TV, LikeTV, not just for the entire show, but Like for each moment by moment. The idea being you get a second by second heat graph for a live show as users simply hit the Like button on our mobile app. On screen, we would show the number of likes live. We didn’t get to it in time, but adding a heat graph would be fun for the user to see. Just imagine the spike on a Superbowl touchdown pass!
This will be huge, with content providers being able to glean info on what is Hot or Not at a detailed level and for advertisers to measure which ads really work. LikeTV provides a much more precise and social mechanism than the traditional Nielsen metrics that only offer audience view rates and not the live barometer of interest.
With so little time, I quickly added the Like button to our native Android app and hacked up a simple mobile web app LikeTV.me so we could get audience participation, while my partner set up a PubNub enabled notification system for the TV UI (web), allowing instant updates. Having done HMTL 5 hacks often now, I got it up in minutes. Trick was getting a domain though in time. Using GrepDomain (one of my startup’s products), I found liketv.me was surprisingly not taken! Praying that the DNS would propagate in time (around 30 minutes to demo at this point), I went for it. Thanks to Namecheap, I had a live mobile web app running by demo time.
With some spare time left, I started thinking: wouldn’t it be awesome to add Pebble smartwatch integration? Imagine seamlessly just pressing a button without moving your eyes off the screen. I have been hacking with Pebble, having just published my first Pebble app Watchlight and related Android companion app (more apps soon at PebApp.com). Knowing how easy getting basic Pebble up/down button detection was and considering I had a native mobile app ready to integrate with, I quickly hacked up a Pebble app so that any button will call the same code to our web service to register a Like.
A smartwatch is one of the best ways to quickly provide input without too much distraction. I think wearable devices will offer a new level of non-distracting input that is natural. Soon, we will have sensors detect your emotion and smile to automatically measure your likeness of a show! But for now, with LikeTV, the user is still in control and can easily give input.
Having spent even the last few minutes hacking, we didn’t prepare at all for the pitch. We just winged it, and looking back at the video recording, it went pretty well!
When it came time to the awards, we won the Alphonso first prize and a giant check! Talking later to the awesome Alphonso sponsor team, they told me how the second-by-second likes and the Pebble app really sealed the deal in their minds. We discussed how in the future, we would want to group users who are watching at the same time and show a real heat graph.
To cap off the night, we went to LG’s building in SF demoing their new upcoming WebOS TVs. Wow, these were awesome! Their new HTML5 based UI is gorgeous. It was as smooth as butter and all of it running on a tiny dual core board. The input is provided by an air mouse using Bluetooth. I am sure mobile apps could use Bluetooth to interact with the TV as well.
Overall, this was a different hack for me and introduced me to the whole TV apps space. It will be exciting to see what happens in the TV world very soon.