20: March Madness on tvOS

March Madness Live is the top featured app in the tvOS App Store in the US. It deserves to be, as the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is arguably the biggest annual television event here apart from the Super Bowl. While the tournament is just getting underway, I've been trying the app during the preliminary "First Four" games, including cheering on my alma mater, the University of Michigan. (They won!)

Setup of the app was less than flawless. With the first game already in progress on Tuesday evening, the app told me to "Come back after the schedule has been announced." Digging into the app's settings screen and entering cable account credentials brought it to its senses, but I was never prompted for that info. Once the schedule appeared, video wouldn't play until I force quit the app, something that many tvOS users probably still don't know is an option. (Just like in iOS, double tap home and then swipe up.)

I was excited at the initial announcement of the app, which according to Recode promised "a new split-screen feature available exclusively through Apple TV". While there haven't been concurrent games yet, no evidence of such a feature exists. The app is largely a grid of thumbnails that lead to unadorned streams: hit menu, and you're back to the grid (and restarting your stream earns you another playthrough of the same 15-second preroll for an Android phone — two strikes for an Apple user trying to watch live sports).

Incessant branding in the app indicates partnership with HBO Now, which likely means that MLB TV's streaming engine underlies the app. The quality is good, and the streams are reliable once they begin…but there's just nothing else there. Even if CBS/Turner wants their apps to just be stopgaps when viewers are away from their "real" TVs, it would be a joke if their iOS offering was just a plain UICollectionView. Yes, tvOS is a lesser platform, probably one of the smallest they've developed for, but the lack of effort makes you wonder why they bothered at all, or if Apple encouraged them at any stage before App Editorial. Apple wants tvOS to be taken seriously, but if March Madness Live is the best that a well-funded corporate developer can manage for a high-profile event, it's clear that on the outside, the TV is still just Apple's "hobby".