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Your Android smartphone as a second screen

The idea of your Android smartphone or tablet as a second screen is really taking hold. We examine the trend and highlight some of the best second screen apps on the platform.
April 13, 2013
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You’ve no doubt heard the term “second screen”. It really just refers to any device you use while watching your TV. According to the surveys, more and more of us are surfing the web or instant messaging on our smartphones, tablets, and laptops while we watch TV or play games. Content producers and social service providers are excited because we’re often engaged in searching for data that’s related to whatever is on our first screen, or talking about it with family and friends.

Done right, second screen apps and services can enhance your viewing, or playing, pleasure by offering related facts, interactive polls or competitions, running commentary from critics or friends, and even links to buy featured products. There is a lot of potential there and it’s only just beginning to be tapped.

What do people do with the second screen?

A study from Google revealed that 77% of TV viewers have another device in their hand and that 81% of the 1,611 polled have used their smartphones while watching TV. Top of the list of activities was email at 60%, followed by internet browsing at 44%, and social networking at 42%.

A much larger, worldwide study from Ericsson found that 62% of people use social media while watching TV and that 40% percent of them are discussing what they’re watching.

When Verizon polled 2,319 Americans through Harris Interactive they found that 65% were planning to use a second screen during the last presidential debate. 41% wanted to fact-check, 39% wanted to follow live commentary from political reporters, and 32% wanted to catch social media reactions. A significant number also intended to weigh in with opinions. 23% said they would post to Facebook, 15% would use a forum or chat room, and 14% would be tweeting.

Trend is here to stay

The percentage of people using a second screen has been growing steadily year on year. The NPD Group released research yesterday revealing that 87 percent of U.S. entertainment consumers are using at least one second screen device while watching TV. For 55% of the 3,387 polled that device was a smartphone.

People seem to be content to dip into social media apps to share their thoughts, search IMDB for that actor’s name, or browse to the show’s website to enter competitions, but it could all be made much easier. In terms of interactivity we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg. Second screen apps on Android are starting to get really interesting. Let’s take a look at some of the best.


Billing itself as “your TV’s sidekick”, zeebox is all about social buzz. You can chat with fans of your favorite shows, uncover a wealth of information, discover what shows other people (including celebs) are excited about, set up reminders so you don’t miss anything, and interact with select shows through polls, votes, and even games. The app also provides a TV guide and it has won the backing of some major networks. With zeetags you can get live info on what’s on screen and links to buy products. The app differs slightly from region to region; for example, the UK version also doubles up as a remote control for some TVs and set top boxes.



This app has been around for ages and its claim to fame is the ability to identify music. Let the app listen to a few seconds of any track that’s playing and it will provide you with the title and artist, not to mention lyrics and links to buy. The developers saw the potential of the second screen and expanded the app to recognize adverts and TV. Shows and advertisers that partner with Shazam can offer unique content and users can tag anything they like.


Xbox SmartGlass

Anyone with an Xbox 360 can use this app to transform their Android into a remote control and keyboard for browsing the Internet via their console or controlling content. The app is also supposed to offer additional content for supported games, further information on movies and TV shows that you’re watching, and other exclusive content, but the Android version is sadly hobbled right now. If and when the Android version will get the full functionality is not clear.


Sony has already promised that there will be a second screen app for the PS4 on Android.

Other second screen apps

There are a few other second screen apps around right now. GetGlue covers the social side quite well, you check-in to shows and movies and there’s lots of conversation, but you can also unlock stickers and discounts. It has a pretty good personalized recommendation system if you use it regularly.

The majority of big networks and service providers have come out with some kind of second screen app. The Netflix app on Android is pretty handy because it can double up as a remote control and it allows you to browse without stopping whatever is playing.

You may also consider IntoNow for extra info on what you’re watching, Miso is another check-in social app, but it really needs an update. You’ll also find a wealth of second screen apps designed specifically for certain shows, movies, or sporting events.

Incorporating second screen features

It’s not just third-party apps and services that are jumping on the second screen bandwagon. Some of these features are getting baked into popular apps and services from the big boys. The days of spending hours trying to remember where you’ve seen “that guy” before are gone.

Amazon’s X-Ray feature, which you’ll find on the Kindle Fire line of tablets, is able to draw on IMDB to conjure up relevant information about the movies or TV shows that you’re watching.


The Google Play Movies & TV app just started pulling in data from Google’s Knowledge Graph, so you can pause movies and get Google Now style pop-up cards with info about the actors on screen and the music that’s playing.

It’s inevitable that, over time, the major manufacturers and service providers will start to incorporate the same kinds of second screen features we’re currently seeing in third-party apps. The potential for games to expand on the experience, using your smartphone as a secondary interactive display, is genuinely exciting; we just need a wide enough platform that everyone can enjoy it and some imaginative designers to take up the challenge. As the creators of our favorite shows and movies start to see the potential, hopefully we’ll get access to more quality content, and TV will become truly interactive.