Freeview’s new app puts your big-screen TV in your pocket

The Freeview app puts the big screen in your pocket
The Freeview app puts the big screen in your pocket
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You are doubtless quite proud of the big TV in your living room – mounted on the wall, perhaps, or resplendent on a piece of oak furniture in the corner.

But as of this year, it offers little more in the way of functionality than the smaller screen in your pocket.

Watching TV on the go, whether off-air or recorded, has been possible on smartphones for some time, given a strong enough wif-fi signal or an unlimited data tariff. But a monthly subscription has usually been involved somewhere down the line.

The launch of Freeview’s latest app changes that. For the first time, its main channels are available to watch live, wherever you are – and depending where you live, there could be more of them on your phone than your TV.

That’s because in many parts of Yorkshire – swathes of Wharfedale, Nidderdale and Scarborough included – only a selection of the 92 Freeview channels is available through the aerial on your roof. Hills and other topographical obstacles between you and the main transmitter at Emley Moor block out the rest. These include some of the ITV and Channel 4 portfolio.

TV delivered over the internet gets around any such impediments, and also offers catch-up viewing from the main broadcasters.

The Freeview app, which is available now on iPhones and due next month on Android devices, delivers catch-up viewing by switching to the official BBC iPlayer app or the ITV, Channel 4 and UKTV equivalents. You could install these individually and search them one by one, but Freeview lets you browse shows using the sort of unified on-screen guide familiar from your big TV. You can select your favourite channels and set reminders for programmes you want to watch, just as you can at home.

That makes it more convenient than the separate apps, but Freeview’s real benefit is in letting you watch live, in exactly the same way as a normal TV. So you can check the cricket while you’re at a football match, or vice versa.

Some will argue that it is late to the party with a service like this. Sky has had one for some time. But as the country’s principal platform for watching TV – the one built into every new set – Freeview’s presence in the app stores legitimises the idea of watching TV on your phone. It’s never going to make big screens redundant, but it will make some of us think twice about the need for smaller ones in other rooms.

Meanwhile, if you subscribe to Sky or its internet sibling Now TV, or to Virgin Cable, you’re missing a trick if you don’t try their native apps, which let you carry the premium channels in your monthly package around in your pocket.

TVPlayer, which works on Apple and Android phones, Amazon, Roku and Apple streaming devices and on PC screens, is another credible alternative. Its free service offers live and catch-up viewing on certain channels but its primary objective is to sell you subscriptions to others, which cost £7 or £10 a month, depending how many you need. But you can opt in and out as often as you like, as with you can with Now TV and streaming-only services like Netflix.

For casual viewers, the presence of Freeview on phones may go some way to swinging the balance away from models like this and back to non-subscription services. For the hardened addict, it’s another opportunity to fill in the spare minutes of the day. Either way, it points to the future of TV as a solitary, rather than a shared experience.