IntoNow for iPhone is like Shazam for the TV

A new iOS app identifies what you're watching on TV and makes it easy to kick-start conversations around your favorite shows.

IntoNow on iPhone
Like music ID apps, IntoNow pattern-matches audio to deliver information on your TV show. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

If you're familiar with Shazam or SoundHound, then you're already halfway to understanding IntoNow, a new Silicon Valley startup and iPhone app that launched today.

Like the music-tagging apps, the new IntoNow app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch uses an algorithm to pattern-match a TV show's audio output--its sound--to the right show.

Unlike SoundHound and Shazam, chances are that viewers aren't looking for help identifying the name of the show or title of the episode. Instead, IntoNow hopes that couch potatoes will use the information to get social, sharing their TV picks on Facebook and Twitter and talking about the shows.

IntoNow CEO Adam Cahan held an iPad near a TV in the CNET offices and pressed a small green button on an app. A moment later, the screen filled with a colorful, moving graph of images, like a rainbow-colored piston. Several seconds later, the program identified the show name. A few more button presses thereafter, the notification popped up on Cahan's Facebook profile.

CEO Cahan and his team hope that IntoNow will become a missing link that allows real-life friends to easily socialize about TV while watching shows in real-time. But why not just post the information on Twitter or Facebook yourself?

IntoNow points to the app's richer features for discovery and engagement. The app doesn't stop at posting to social networks and encouraging discussion. It also tells you the show and episode that your IntoNow friends are watching, so you can watch or comment along. You can find out more details on IMDB, add the season to your Netflix queue, and follow links to buy it in iTunes.

IntoNow on iPhone
A tap makes it easy to start talking about your favorite shows on Facebook and Twitter. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

How it works

The current technology, called SoundPrint, monitors 130 channels of live cable and network TV, converting the "soundprint" of a given episode into ones and zeros. Later, the software can match the audio "fingerprint" to a sound bite captured by your iPad or phone. If you're trying to match to a new episode that IntoNow is just indexing on its back end, it may take closer to 12 seconds than 4 to find the show on the app's front end. 

The company also tracks a back catalog of popular shows so it can identify reruns. As with the music ID apps, IntoNow has patented its algorithm.

Who will use it?

Whether or not users will glom onto IntoNow is the essential question, and one that the company acknowledges is its biggest hurdle. Yet like others we've seen, Snapstick for instance, the first app is more an example of what the platform can do.

In addition to committing to Android and WebOS apps down the line, IntoNow hopes to conquer television's social frontier by opening its platform API for third-party developers to integrate into their own apps.

IntoNow also wants to target TV, Blu-ray, and set-top box manufacturers to install the SoundPrint software in their boob tube boxes. On the advertising side, it sees the companion IntoNow app offering deeper experiences for advertisers looking for user engagement. This could manifest in a coupon, game, or giveaway when you "check in" during a commercial.

Usability

Using IntoNow on the iPhone definitely dipped into the cool factor during our test period, at least when it came to the satisfaction of having the program correctly identify a show. However, it's hard to gauge how useful or interesting it would be without some initial traction from real-life users, not just test contacts.

Music ID apps like SoundHound and Shazam fill a basic need by providing a song name and artist information when the details aren't readily available--then they layer on the social aspects. Television schedules are well-documented, which leaves IntoNow's similar technology being put to the service of water cooler conversation or lazy person's Netflix queue shortcut. We remain on the fence about its utility for now, and hope that the technology itself undergoes some interesting implementations as more people sign on.

 

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