Cute cats. Lessons on how to knit a sweater. A singing demonstration from the next Justin Bieber. Thanks to the wonderful worldwide Web, you can find videos for any of these topics, or whatever your interests might be, with a simple search. But what you might get in return is an overwhelming number of results that’s not so simple to sift through.
With numerous online video services serving up results, enjoying clips can be a game of back and forth between different sites, which doesn’t make the best use of your time. This week, I checked out two mobile apps — Rockpack and Vod.io — that can help solve this problem.
Often described as a “Flipboard for video,” both of these apps allow you to discover videos from around the Web and organize them all in one place. To be clear, the apps aren’t replacements for streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, where you can watch full TV shows or movies. Instead, they’re meant for consuming short clips from the likes of YouTube, Vimeo and even your social networks, and are best suited for people who view a lot of video online. Casual viewers might find there’s too much noise in these apps.
As a person who watches a lot of Web clips, I found that both apps created a personal and pleasurable viewing experience, especially on a tablet. The interfaces were much more attractive than what’s offered by YouTube channel subscriptions. But they operate a little differently from each other, and neither is perfect.
Launched just last week, Rockpack is a free app for the iPhone and iPad. The London-based company is working on releasing a Web version this fall, and its goal is to offer an Android app in the future.
Visually, Rockpack is the more beautiful of the two apps, and the easiest to use. But it also has some limitations.
To start using the app, you’ll need to create an account, or sign in using your Facebook account. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be presented with a page of “Channels,” which are basically video playlists organized by category or brand. These channels are managed by Rockpack editors, partners and celebrities, such as National Geographic and Jamie Oliver, and are a lot more specialized than Vod.io. For example, under Music, you’ll find specific video playlists like “DJ Sets” and “Beach Music” while the same channel in Vod.io only surfaces the most popular music videos from around the Web.
Rockpack channels are presented in a neat grid view, with bold lettering and attractive visuals. Along the top of the screen, there is a toolbar where you can easily move among all the categories. In addition, swiping to the left brings up a Feeds page, where you can view new videos from your subscribed channels by date. Swiping to the right takes you to your profile page.
Once you tap on an individual channel, it brings up the entire video catalog for that category. There you can watch clips, subscribe to that channel, share the playlist with others via email, text message or social networks, and more. The user interface is intuitive, and everything can be pretty much be done with a single tap or two.
In my testing, video playback was smooth, and the app automatically plays the next clip in the queue. It would be nice, though, if there were an option to turn this feature off, since I didn’t always want to watch what was up next.
Setting up your own Rockpack channel is also easy. From your profile page, you can tap on “Create New Channel” to name it and add a custom background image. I made a Surfing channel and used the app’s search function to add videos.
The drawback of Rockpack is that it only pulls videos from YouTube for now. Though I found plenty of content, there were a couple of clips I couldn’t find on YouTube that I knew existed on Vimeo. It would also be nice to have the option to import content from Facebook and Twitter, since my friends and followers usually post some gems on there.
Support for additional video services and social network integration are in the works, and once that happens, I can see myself using Rockpack as my go-to video app.
Next is Vod.io. Also a free app, it’s available for both iOS and Android. You don’t need to create an account to use it, but I did, and connected my Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts for the reason I mentioned above.
By default on the iPad app, the main page shows a carousel of five channels: Music, Entertainment, Sports, Tech and Highlights (seven, if you add Facebook and Twitter). All are populated with clips from various sources around the Web, based on things like number of views, shares, freshness and other factors, so if you like to keep abreast of what’s trending, Vod.io is your app. I also liked that when I tapped on a video that came from Facebook or Twitter, it also included any comments made by the poster, so it provided some context with the clip.
Tapping the plus sign in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen gives you the ability to add more channels from Vod.io’s list of predefined categories. From each main topic, you can narrow down to more specific subcategories. There are also channels from individual sources, like Disney and Apple.
In addition, you can search for and create channels based on specific terms, but there are a couple of downsides to Vod.io’s search function. First, it’s doesn’t surface individual clips. For example, when I searched for Louis C.K., it brought up results for his YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter profile — but no videos. This is by design, the company said.
Second, once you select a search result, it’s automatically added to your main carousel. There’s no way to browse before adding. But Vod.io plans to fix this in the future.
These issues aside, I enjoyed using Vod.io. There were no problems with video playback, and within each player are one-touch buttons that let you “like” or “dislike” a clip, share with others or save to watch later.
If you love perusing the Web for video clips, Rockpack and Vod.io provide a simpler way to do so from a single app. Each has its flaws, but both offer a good viewing experience.