The BBC iPlayer and their political fascination with Apple
The BBC iPlayer's new download-to-mobile function is only available on Apple devices: is this for a technical reason, or is something else at play?
Speaking from experience, this is a service that you'll use - a lot. Opportunities to download decent programmes to replace the rather variable in-flight services is something that is a real benefit. It's been possible for a while on desktops; but to have this on some mobile devices is a real benefit.
But it's only available on some mobile devices. Specifically, Apple devices. Specifically, iOS 5.1 - the latest consumer version of iOS. 1 in 5 iOS users don't use iOS5, as a matter of interest: not a big deal, but worth mentioning.
Possibly more worth mentioning is the complete absence of support of Android for this feature (slated as "coming soon" by the corporation).
Android has a bigger market share than Apple in the UK; indeed, most research now says that more people run Android than any other smartphone operating system here. So, with a market share of less than 30%, why have the BBC targeted Apple devices first?
Some point to technical issues, to do with DRM and control; yet Android already offers downloadable versions of movies to handsets and the movie industry is keen to always check digital rights management software for robustness before supplying any new system. The Google Play movie app is clever enough to even refuse to run if you root your device, just in case the rooting allows the DRM to be bypassed.
Some point to Android's app environment not being as profitable as Apple's. This is certainly true; Apple phones are top-end, flagship devices (they don't build a cheap one) - so by definition, the owner of a shiny iPhone or iPad is more likely to have a higher disposable income than the average mobile phone user. You can say the same about owners of the top-end Galaxy Nexus or HTC OneX, of course. But Android users come from across the spectrum. My ten year-old nephew rocks an Android phone too; and many friends who aren't into the tech quite as much have Android phones because that's what the default was when it was time to upgrade. Android has a larger market: and, by extension, will have, on average, a lower level of disposable income. That's how scale works. (And the BBC app, in the UK, is already paid-for by your licence fee).
Similarly, Android's fragmentation is cited, too. Never mind iOS's "only 80% running the latest OS", on Android, only 1% are running it. Ice Cream Sandwich is on a handful of phones, including the Galaxy Nexus, and a handful of tablets like some Transformer models and the good-selling Nexus 7. Undoubtedly, this makes Android harder to develop for. This is less to do with software, and more to do with the range of devices that are out there; the Google Nexus One phone, once vaunted as the flagship, won't run Ice Cream Sandwich - even Cyanogenmod, a well-known alternative ROM producer, won't support it. Offer cheap devices for consumers that don't have the cash, and the user experience differs. However, apps can be released only to certain OS's - or even only to certain devices.
So, why have they prioritised Apple over Android (again)? Is it as a result of the above issues?
I think the answer is rather simpler.
Walk into any BBC executive meeting, and you'll be struck by the high amount of iPhones you see on the table. And it's not just the BBC. iPhone is the phone of choice for opinion-formers; and now supported by their IT departments. Android's wide device availability has delivered the real numbers of users: but if you only want to reach people "who matter" or people "who spend", then you only need to develop for an Apple device right now: since they're the only phones in the hands of politicians and Board members.
The BBC's overwhelming mission is to keep protecting its existence. It does this by providing great programming, sure, but it's unnaturally concerned with what politicians and journalists write about it; since it knows that once it loses favour, the writing is on the wall for the whole corporation.
The difficulty for the BBC is that everyone pays for it; Apple and Android users.
While the BBC is chasing the opinion-formers with their iPhones, they'd do well to remember that while some opinion-formers also have high-end Android products, the BBC stands the best chance of serving the highest amount of licence-fee payers - including the hard-to-reach younger market - by not treating Android as second-best.
James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
E-mail James Cridland | Visit James Cridland's website
James, James, James – you throw out the bait, I’ll take it.
You list more issues there than any developer let alone broadcaster would want to deal with – yet you still basically ignore them and blame the fact that execs have iphones? Madness buddy.
Do you have information about the download numbers/rate for iPhone vs Android for the BBC App? Its likely that iOS downloads are extrodinarily higher than Android, as is the day 1-14 take up rate.. So of course when rolling out a new feature, if you want to get it to market you go with the demand/downloads first.
Android is almost certainly more expensive and complex to not only develop, but test. Too many devices to test it on, too much complexity – and the BBC wouldnt want one person calling the switch to complain that their android phone (running 2.3) can’t download shows – for some simple coding reason which couldnt or wasnt tested before launch.
For organisations and the developers they enlist Android offers a host of complex road blocks and challenges. Not that they aren’t being tackled, just that they take a lot longer to deal with.
You can argue about “market size” all you like, but the app usage and download rate on android is miniscule compared to iOS – because iOS users most likely made a choice to that platform, whereas Android users can simply be people who were off a plan and needed a new phone, they are handed a host of choices – mostly android, and have no intent to use apps, they just want calls and texts…
So, for me, I think I’d be asking the BBC if in fact it is technically challenging to get the android feature rolled out, rather than sighting executive phone choice…
There you go.. you got me!
“Madness, buddy”. ;)
If I was launching an app, I’d focus on Apple, too: because the type of person who has an Apple is probably someone I’d like to target to spend money with me. Not faulting that.
The BBC, however, isn’t launching that type of app; and has significant problems reaching some young, downscale audiences (which is why it has Radio 1 and ‘youff’ channel BBC 3) – the very people who Android reaches too.
That’s my problem with it, really. But it takes longer than 160 characters.
Sure, and that is completely logical – but your own blog admits that android is “coming soon” – so they are going to target those people, your issue here seems to be they launched the iOS version when it was ready – we dont know at all that they didn’t commission the creation of both android and iOS at the same time…
I’m in the same position as James, in that I’m an Android user – the majority? – and I’d love to have this download facility on my devices. But I refuse to buy Apple products (mostly), and I know that more often than not, I’ll have to wait for the Android version to come out.
But I suspect that it’s really nothing more nefarious than Apple’s iOS being easier to develop for. When I talk to people who do the developing, that’s what they tell me. With literally hundreds of devices running Android in its various guises, it gets complicated to do. I know we’ve had fun and games with audio in the past on Android.
Yes it’s achievable since Google’s done it with its play service. But Google has virtually limitless resources and it was essential that they get something up and running to cope with Apple (Not that everything they do is perfect – Google Play in the UK is a pale imitation of iTunes in terms of what’s available on it).
If the BBC really didn’t care too much about Android then they probably wouldn’t have strong-armed Adobe into reinstating Flash for Android while they develop a Flash-less version of iPlayer.
If the iOS version was ready, then should they hold onto it until they’ve got the Android version ready? Or do they just release the updates as they get developed?
The “coming soon” things bugs me. I suspect it doesn’t mean next week. But perhaps being a little more forthcoming as to whether it means next month or next year would be nice. On the other hand, if they say “Q4 2012” then you can be certain that any developmental setbacks will result in hundreds or thousands of people moaning and demanding their iPlayer.
When all’s said and done, it’s worth remembering that the BBC actually favoured Windows Media devices way ahead of anything else including iOS. You could download and watch iPlayer programmes on devices like the Sony Walkman long before Apple got it. I was watching programmes years ago on such devices. I suspect they did it because it was easiest to do…
Oh, and yes it’s annoying that you can’t download radio on the new app. But then you can’t on the desktop version of iPlayer either.
I think other commenters have adequately covered the fact that you list good reasons to go iOS first and then just declare that it’s management politics out of nowhere. They’ve also noted that App usage rates are lower on android.
Let’s gloss over all that for now and look at the paragraph where you say it’s dangerous to neglect high-end Android because of all the opinion formers.
That’s superficially true but it’s the same choice that many start ups face when deciding where to launch first. Even free products such as Instagram and Flipboard started iOS first or only because they concluded that’s the way to grab mindshare easiest.
Why should the BBC bet the other way? Oh yeah, politics, got it.
Also worth considering is market share in tablets. I can’t find UK specific figures, but the global figures I can find on the web point to Apple having about a 70% share of all tablet sales.
I don’t watch much TV on my iPhone – mainly short bursts of news or sport. And I certainly wouldn’t use it to watch a long TV programme on a train or plane: for that I have an iPad.
If all the execs were using Sony Ericsson t68i’s, and this was an app for those, I might understand – but they’re not, they’re using iPhones, like a rather a large amount of people around the world. Oh and, what, 70% of the tablet market? Don’t really understand the point being made.
You look at your (mobile) user base, you see what platform your users are using, you chose to develop for that platform first. Not only, but first. Anyone got any surprise statistics to think that wouldn’t lead to ios first?
Anyway, maybe now I’ll use iPlayer on my phone, now that it, you know – actually does something useful.
It really is as simple as development, and nothing more. With Apple, you have iOS and essentially not much more than half a dozen devices to cater for. With Android, you have several versions of the OS still out there – because a good number of handsets simply can’t move on any further – multiplied by an inordinate amount of handsets by a number of manufacturers. That’s why a lot of apps on the Android system are ‘stripped’ down versions of their iOS counterparts, to avoid the hassle of having to tweak it for every variation.
“Do you have information about the download numbers/rate for iPhone vs Android for the BBC App? Its likely that iOS downloads are extrodinarily higher than Android, as is the day 1-14 take up rate.. “
Current iPlayer doesn’t even work – “not supported on this device” on any Android device I own, yet works flawlessly on the 3 iOS devices in my house. So the stats are going to be skewed in iOS’ favour given its impossible for me to use it on Android. These are Android devices anyone could buy, not flashed/hacked/rooted, just bog-standard Android devices.