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The best mobile apps for channel surfing

by Brad Spirrison

The remote control is no longer the only handheld device to help you discover and tune into quality TV shows. Smartphone and tablet applications now exist that will identify and provide background information of the shows you are watching, let you share your viewing experiences with friends, and help you locate quality video clips from YouTube and other alternative sources.

Here are five “must-download” TV apps.

Looking for even more television apps? Try these.

IntoNow from Yahoo! (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android: free)

While there are plenty of applications that allow you “check-in” to your favorite shows and see which programs your friends are watching, IntoNow is far and away the best of the bunch. Using technology similar to what is found in music discovery apps like Shazam and SoundHound, IntoNow recognizes what you are watching and then provides details about that specific episode. The app, which was acquired by Yahoo! shortly after its debut, works not only for live TV, but also for recorded and archived content. In addition to detailing shows stored in your DVR, IntoNow works for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and episodes rented from Apple or Amazon Instant Video. IntoNow identifies songs within shows you are watching (with links to download them). You can also grab screenshots from episodes, add captions to them and share with members of your social networks.

TV Guide Mobile (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android: free)

The pioneer in television listings is finding new life in mobile applications. A brand new update to TV Guide’s iOS applications (the Android refresh presumably coming soon) provides for a great “second screen” experience. Once you login to the app, it will ask for your location, and then help you identify your local cable or satellite provider. With that information, you are presented with not only a program guide, but preview clips, curated content, and links to rent and download classic programs. Similar to IntoNow, you can also check-in to shows on TV Guide Mobile, and share what you are watching with friends across the leading social networks.

Download the Appolicious Android app

Showyou (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: free)

The broadcast and cable networks of course are no longer the exclusive providers of video entertainment. Each minute, there is more than 72 hours of video content uploaded to YouTube. The challenge is to identify programs and video clips that are most relevant to you. Showyou is the leading video discovery application around, and beautifully showcases clips shared by those you follow on Facebook and Twitter. The app also has dozens of curated categories ranging from “Everything Animated”, to “Funny or Die” to NASA TV. Showyou is a great way to find high quality programs amidst the expanding ocean of digital content.

PBS Kids Video (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad: free)

While most toddlers don’t understand how to work remote controls, finding episodes of Curious George, The Cat in the Hat and other classic kids’ shows is a snap with the PBS Kids Video app. In all, there are more than 1,000 family-friendly videos to enjoy, and the app lets kids and their parents bookmark their favorites.

SnagFilms (iPad, Android: free)

If you prefer true stories to scripted entertainment, than SnagFilms is the app for you. More than 3,000 documentaries are contained within SnagFilms, which also exists online. You can spend hours, if not days and weeks, watching award-winning documentaries on culture, politics, history and the arts. The biography library here is a nice antidote to the watered-down fare now found on A&E and other mainstream sources. SnagFilms is also a boon to individual filmmakers who have trouble finding distribution on traditional outlets.