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The Swell personalised radio player is just swell

At last - personalised speech radio arrives to the iPhone and to your commute.

This article was written before I realised - in the comments - that it's apparently not available in the UK. I don't know why this is the case: disappointing.

Swell, a new app, launched yesterday.

Imagine BBC Radio 4, but with less of the stuff you don't like, and more of the stuff you do. Sound swell? That's the sound of Swell - an app that I've been lucky enough to beta-test (iOS only for now) over the last couple of months.

As I regularly say when speaking at conferences, radio's simple user interface is a good one. Cut down to its bare minimum, it's one button - the power button, or 'entertain me' button, which entertains you until you press it again. That's one of the reasons why radio still has the lion's share of time with audio - the simple user interface.

Swell has heard me - or others like me. The user interface is pared down and simple: letting you know what you're listening to and, with one gesture, allowing you to skip forward. Open the app and it starts playing - playing stuff you might be interested in. And, as you listen, and skip, it gets better at knowing what you want to listen to, and what you'd rather not hear.

It's the perfect user interface for the car; and reflects what radio's good at - a multitasking medium, allowing you to continue listening to stuff while your hands are busy at something else.

Content partners include NPR, American Public Media and ABC News, and the service also includes content from the BBC, CBC, Comedy Central, TED, and more. I found it quick to learn what I liked and what I didn't. Sometimes I wanted to be able to signal to the app that I did like the programme it had found for me but didn't have time to listen to it right now; and sometimes being served up whole programmes was asking quite a lot; but that's an issue with the content, not the app itself. The available content is a little too American for my tastes; but there's presumably nothing to stop them aggregating more UK content and using my location as a clue.

The service will cache via wifi if you want to avoid using your data allowance, or if you know your commute is not served too well by 3G (like a train or tube journey). A nice touch, reflecting the thought that's gone in to this app.

Personally, I find it exciting that, after lots of Pandora, Apple iTunes Radio, Aupeo algorithmic music jukeboxes, we've finally a personalised player for proper radio with real human beings.

If you're a fan of speech radio (as we quaintly call it here in the UK), you might find that Swell's for you. It's a free download in the AppStore if you own a toy phone; and we're promised an Android app is coming soon for the grown-ups. Try it and report back here in the comments.

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.
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Recommendations: 0
James Cridland

I’m getting some reports that it isn’t actually in the UK store… if you can’t see it, do shout!

Recommendations: 0
Alistair Sutcliffe posted

The link from the website just gives a ‘not available in uk store’ error, and searching doesn’t find it either. Shame, as it sounds interesting.

Recommendations: 0
Art Grainger posted

If it comes here I’d be very interested in getting a hi-tech phone (for the first time ever) and using this app, provided that the likes of LBC, Radio Scotland, 5 Live and most (all) of the world’s international broadcasters provide content, including Radio New Zealand, VOA, China Radio International and even WRN Europe.

Recommendations: 0
Ian Beaumont

Yeah, doesn’t come up in the UK store at all. Shame, I liked the sound of it. Just have to stick to the podcasts.

Recommendations: 0
David Sim posted

Looks interesting, but not available in UK. Maybe content agreements?

Is it very different to a good podcast app? Recommendations perhaps? Looking at the content on the screenshots it just looks like readily available podcasts.

Recommendations: 0
GD Ram Ramkumar

James, thanks for your review! Swell is currently targeted to the US market, but we want to make it available in the UK and other countries.

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