Few people have had more of an impact on U.S. popular culture (and perhaps the world, as demonstrated in the "The Strangest Sights in Google Earth") than talk-show host, actress, author, and new-media pioneer Oprah Winfrey. Her Website features a staggering depth and breadth of content from Oprah herself and a multitude of contributors. It even features its own social network, in addition to Facebook Connect.
So it was with great expectations that I spent 99 cents (the first time I have purchased an Android app for my personal use) to download the new Oprah Mobile app for Android. I wish to be crystal clear when I say why this app is not one of My Favorite Things. The Oprah.com Website itself is excellent. However, I am reviewing the app, and the execution of some of its features is mediocre.
First, a look at the good parts. This app does a nice job of navigating Oprah.com with a simple, intuitive, and finger-friendly interface. The home screen, called Oprah Show, is organized in three tabs: Exclusives, What's on TV, and Listings (basically a guide to Oprah airtimes on local stations). Pressing the Menu key slides up five buttons, labeled Oprah Show, Articles, Videos, Photos, and More.
The offered material includes video clips, articles, radio (audio) streams, photo slideshows, and tweets from Oprah. The layout is generally clean, visually appealing, and well formatted for the small screen. Topics range from fluff such as a celebrity's favorite foods to serious, hard-hitting coverage such as what's really going on in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Social media sharing is built in. Each item has a Share button at the bottom of the page; I was able to share articles using Gmail and Twitter. It's a nice way to start a conversation or save a link for future reference.
Now, the bad parts. In this app, Facebook sharing--a very important feature--is broken. Occasionally it works, but usually it results in a message that says 'Your link could not be shared.' I have not had such a problem with any other app that provides Facebook sharing, so I must assume that the fault lies with this app. For example, visiting the Oprah.com Website with the stock Android browser (using Verizon's Motorola Droid and Sprint's EVO 4G, both with Android 2.2/Froyo, and selecting the 'view the full website' link at the bottom of the mobile Web page), I was able to "like" and also share a link to the article "Education for All--Viewers React to Waiting for Superman," but my attempt to Facebook-share the same article in the Oprah Mobile app repeatedly ended in failure.
Again using the stock Android Web browser, I could access all of the content available in the Oprah Mobile app--and much more. With the browser, I was able to register an account on Oprah.com, comment on stories and forums, and read other Oprah.com users' comments. None of that is possible with the Oprah Mobile app.
But wait, what about all those pre-Froyo Android devices that don't have Flash? Surely Oprah Mobile provides a better experience for those users?
I installed Oprah Mobile on the AT&T Samsung Captivate, running Android 2.1. Although the Captivate is a really nice phone, it doesn't have Flash, and video clips from Oprah.com do not play in its stock Web browser. Regrettably, videos don't play in the Oprah Mobile app on this device, either. Since you can access Oprah.com forums with the browser but not the app, the browser still has an advantage over the app.
In my app reviews, I expect an app to perform tasks at least as well as the default Android apps do. Paid apps, preferably, should be much better than the default tools. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Oprah Mobile right now.
I should also mention that I reported the Facebook-sharing bug to the app developer, as I often do with software I purchase. More than two weeks later, I still have not received a reply, nor has the app received an update. Usually developers of paid apps respond within three business days, and often even free-app developers answer within a comparable time frame.
Devoted Oprah fans may be more than happy to spend a buck on an official Oprah Mobile app. For everyone else, however, the stock Android Web browser provides a free and more full-featured way to access the same excellent content.